January 23, 2014 10:44:35 AM
Sometimes the best step forward requires taking a step back.
On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council appeared to be set to enter a three-year contract with a commercial consulting firm at the urging of Councilman Charlie Box.
Mayor Robert Smith argued persuasively the city should first consult Golden Triangle Development Link CEO Joe Max Higgins before entering an agreement with Retail Strategies, a deal that would cost the city $88,000 over three years. In turn, the firm would help the city recruit more retail businesses.
The debate over whether to proceed with the contract was sidelined by confusion over how much money was available in this year's budget to fund the contract.
But any discussion of how the city would pay for the service is a secondary issue.
First, the city must decide if hiring a consultant is in the city's best interest. Funding is a moot point if hiring the consultant fails to meet that standard.
Certainly, cities everywhere find themselves in competition when it comes to attracting retail businesses.
But a question remains unanswered: Does the Link already serve the purpose that Retail Strategies proposes to provide? Although there is no doubt that the Link focuses much of its attention on recruiting industry, it has shown that it can lure retail businesses, too, as evidenced the impending arrival of Michaels and DICK's Sporting Goods on Highway 45.
What the council must determine is whether Retail Strategies will duplicate the recruiting services already provided by the Link or complement those efforts.
The mayor is right in this instance: Before proceeding, the council should consult the Link to determine if there is something Retail Strategies can provide that the Link does not provide. If the answer to that question is yes, the council should consider whether those extra benefits are justified by the cost.
Few decisions suffer from an excess of information, after all.
Entering a contract with Retail Strategies may yet be a wise move.
But more information is needed before that can be known.