By Richard Rourk
The Unicoi County Joint Economic and Community Development Executive Board is in the market for a new executive director after Tyler Engle resigned the post following criticism of his job performance by JECDB Executive Board Chairman Lee Brown.
During a JEDB meeting on Friday, Feb. 4, Brown made public his concerns.
“I had someone ask me what our director is doing and I don’t actually know,” Brown stated during the meeting.
“I’ve seen a decline in performance recently,” Brown noted, without mentioning specifics.
After more discussion of board expectations regarding the executive director, Engle announced that he would resign the post.
One item of contention discussed during the meeting was the executive director’s availability.
“I’ve sent a request for the director to return to the office after moving to working remotely during the pandemic,” Brown said. “That has appeared to be inconsistent since. Following our December meeting I was informed that the director was working from home.”
Engle read from his resignation letter, which dated his resignation to noon on Feb. 4, to board members before departing the meeting.
“While I have found a deep love in the practice of economic and community development, the leadership of the chairman of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board has become increasingly hostile and adversarial,” Engle read aloud.
Engle said that Brown has on several occasions in the past 18 months called him into one-on-one meetings to “berate and belittle me and my performance without any performance review policy or process.”
Engle also alleged that Brown conducted these sessions without informing the board of the meetings.
“Admittedly, I am far from perfect and don’t always get it right,” Engle said. “However, beginning last summer, the chairman has fabricated a narrative that I do not effectively execute the duties of my job. In reality, I have completed numerous sitings and announcements totaling over $30 million over the past 18 months — Blue Ridge Paddle Guides, PlastiExports, Fed Up Foods, CoreTex and a new resort development in the Coffee Ridge community.”
Engle also said that he had guided projects such as Pyranha Kayak, the Erwin Gateway Shopping Center (home to Food City and a forthcoming in-line shop) and Old Hickory Buildings.
“My work has included speaking engagements and sharing best practices in rural development across the country,” he informed the board members. “Further, I undertook the Oklahoma University’s Economic Development Institute. I completed my MBA while working full-time for the Board. It has given me great pride to use my education and training to advance the prosperity of the people of Unicoi County.”
Engle told the board members that the most frustrating part of the past year-and-a-half for him has been attempts by the chairman to continually shut the JECDB out of projects.
“This includes a recent, sizable industrial project on the Second Street Industrial Site,” Engle said. “Because I was not included in much of the deal-making process, I am unaware of what transpired to cause the business to end its consideration of the Second Street site.”
Engle also claimed some encroachment on his responsibilities.
“As your economic development practitioner, you have assigned me to shepherd projects,” he said. “Through the chairman’s actions, the county’s economic development efforts have become duplicated, disjointed and confusing to prospective industrial clients.”
He concluded by expressing regret that one board member’s actions had led him to resign.
“However, the toxic work environment to which I have been subjected is untenable,” he said. “The board should carefully reconsider its leadership should the board wish to employ a qualified economic development practitioner in the future.”
Contacted a few days after the meeting, Brown said, “While the director’s resignation came as a surprise, we wish him the best in the future.”