Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 31, 2010

Editorial: MEDC outdoes fiasco

You've got to hand it to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. When it decides to hang a "stupid" sign on its front door it does so with panache.

The agency dragged hapless Gov. Jennifer Granholm onto a stage to announce a deal giving more than $9 million in state tax breaks to a guy who promised to convert an old plant in Flint to make energy and sanitation equipment for villages in Africa.

Energy and sanitation equipment?

For African villages?

Oh, boy. Nothing can go wrong here, right?

You guessed it. Chicken salad quickly turned to chicken ... well, you get the idea.

No sooner were Granholm and her MEDC jesters done touting tax-break recipient Richard Short's entrepreneurial genius than the coppers had him in cuffs for a parole violation.

Short, it seems, is an embezzler and con artist. Imagine that. The guy who was going to save Africa via Flint with Michigan tax breaks is a crook. Who would have thought it? Certainly not the sharpies at MEDC, apparently.

Later a red-faced bureaucrat running the MEDC fessed up that his agency wasn't aware of Short's criminal record because it didn't do background checks on officers of companies sucking up state tax breaks. What a concept. Apparently, any shmo could walk into the MEDC office and say, "Hey, I've got this great plan to design and build a foolproof butterfly herder in an old GM plant in Pontiac. Can I have $10 million?"

You betcha, buddy. Call the press conference.

Rest easy, though, Michiganders. Your state government is nothing if not flexible. From now on the MEDC will ask more questions before handing out tax breaks.

The trouble is the MEDC buffoonery doesn't surprise folks in northern Michigan. Just ask the people in Petoskey. They've been looking at an ugly scar in the middle of their beautiful community since some well-connected fast talkers using MEDC tax breaks dug a hole for "world class" Petoskey Pointe condominiums and left town.

Those folks were the recipients of the MEDC's largesse too. More than $4 million worth.

The developers knowingly used flawed soil contamination reports to wrangle tax credits out of the state. MEDC officials at the time said they didn't catch the error and had no plans to rescind the credit.

"We don't see a problem with what transpired, frankly," an MEDC honcho said at the time. "It was an error. Some people make errors all the time. We don't have a problem with it." Obviously.