Friday, March 04, 2011

Consultant apologizes for Lexington economic development report after questions about 'recycled recommendations'

By Janet Patton —

A $150,000 consultant's report on Lexington's economic development strategy came under fire by a local citizens group as "recycled recommendations," and the consultant whose firm wrote the report apologized for it late Thursday and promised to "rectify the situation."

The report, paid for by the city and Commerce Lexington, had been set for release March 18. Mayor Jim Gray asked Commerce Lexington to delay the report's release because of the issues raised by citizens group ProgressLex.

Late Thursday, Angelos Angelou, principal executive officer of the consulting firm, AngelouEconomics, based in Austin, Texas, sent an e-mail to Commerce Lexington officials and the Herald-Leader apologizing for the report.

"This has been a serious violation of our firm's internal policies and quality control," Angelou wrote.

In the e-mail, Angelou said he would ask for two to three weeks to rewrite the report.

"As the founder of AngelouEconomics, I take full responsibility for this major lapse in our work and there is no excuse to justify what has happened," he said. "I deeply apologize for the damage that this may have caused."

Ben Self, a local entrepreneur and board member of ProgressLex, first raised questions about the report in a blog post early Thursday. Self obtained an early draft of the report and wrote on the ProgressLex blog that several parts appeared to be "copied and pasted" from plans for places in Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, among others.

"I understand many cities are facing similar problems, but with the amount of money spent, it seems like we'd get a document specifically addressed to our environment," Self wrote on the ProgressLex site.

The group called for AngelouEconomics to refund the city's half of the fee, $75,000.

"I think it's important for us to ask them to refund the money. We could do something fantastic with that," Self told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. "I think it's disappointing Lexington didn't get recommendations specific to our city. We got recycled recommendations."

In his statement, Gray said he asked Commerce Lexington to delay the report because the city needs "time to ask questions and to ensure that it will be a report that's tailored to our community."

The statement said the city has already spent $72,253.42 on the report.

Bob Quick, Commerce Lexington president and CEO, said Thursday he had not had a chance to read the draft.

In the draft's executive summary, Self found the Bluegrass region's "first and most important" problem is also the same problem verbatim that the Pikes Peak region had.

The region "must break down long-standing silos and work collaboratively towards a common economic vision," both reports said. "As a result of this conclusion, it became apparent that the plan itself would have to focus on those barriers that compromise regional economic vitality."

Earlier Thursday, Steve Vierck of AngelouEconomics defended his firm's work.

"I really hope people will read it first," Vierck said, "and ask, does this reflect the Lexington area, what the problems are, what the solutions are. I think it reflects the issues from the feedback we picked up."

Vierck, who edited the report and wrote the marketing recommendations, said AngelouEconomics reviewed dozens of reports — some its own, some from other consultants — written for eight to 10 different communities that had similar problems, including the limited trust and lack of teamwork.

"Are there strategies in there that may have been employed in other places? Yes. Part of why we were engaged was to suggest the best tactics used in other places," he said. "This is not recycled. I would definitely disagree with that."

But in his e-mail, Angelou wrote that he had been traveling and unable to review the blog post on ProgressLex until late Thursday. "In lieu, of what I am now able to ascertain, I cannot any longer defend our report and take full responsibility," Angelou wrote.

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