BRIGHAM CITY -- A meeting advertised as an "open forum" left many disappointed when no public questions were taken and residents were left to talk privately with the city's department heads.
The longest queue, however, was not made up of people waiting to speak with a city official, but instead with former Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey, who was hired as a consultant and presented his company's findings on economic development in Brigham City.
Godfrey is CEO of Better Cities, which received $100,000 to analyze economic clusters, or groups of related businesses in specific industries whose collective experience and collaboration can provide a competitive business edge. At the meeting with approximately 100 residents last week, he presented his cluster findings, as well as ways to encourage job growth.
"I'd like him to tell me why it cost $100,000 to do this study," DeLoy Mecham said of his wish to speak with Godfrey. "What's the deal?"
The city had announced earlier that the $100,000 fee was paid in part by donations from area businesses, as well as a federal grant.
But it was that kind of unasked question that left Brigham City resident Ron Germer disappointed that residents weren't allowed to speak publicly.
"In this forum," he explained, "everybody gets a different answer to the same question."
The city's decision to move the meeting to an open house format rather than open mic was difficult, said Mayor Dennis Fife, and was based on the concern that some speakers would be long-winded. Although he fielded many complaints about that decision, he said, "We did get a lot of comments we wouldn't have otherwise. We had 14 conversations going on at one time, not just one."
Bonnie Germer said meeting-goers wanted to ask about all the projects that were listed by Fife as the city's primary efforts. Topping the list was a new Utah State University building the city hopes will be funded by the Legislature in 2013.
"I want to know the cost to Brigham City," she said.
Taking exception to other projects on the list was Dan Taylor, of Brigham City. He described the city's efforts to create new city council furniture out of wood salvaged from sycamore trees cut down near the new LDS temple as "nuts."
"Just because the wood's there doesn't mean you have to use it," he said. "I'd like to have a new office at my place, but it's not going to happen."
Taylor also questioned the proposed overpass over railroad tracks on west Forest Street. Waiting for the train may require a few minutes of drivers' time, he said, but the bridge is "not worth all those millions of dollars."
Godfrey told the residents that his company's analysis had identified four industry clusters: small business, or what he called "incubator" businesses; agricultural manufacturing, including the many food manufacturers in the county, such as Malt-O-Meal and Honeyville Grains; materials manufacturing, such as steel fabricator Vulcraft; and shooting sports and tourism.
In all those areas, he said, the city can help existing businesses grow, as well as attract new businesses. For instance, a strategy for start-up businesses would be to partner them with ATK to use its facilities.
"We need to accumulate more wealth in the county," he told the residents, explaining that profits made by large national companies tend to be returned to faraway headquarters, while more of the profits generated by small business stay in the county.
Box Elder County deals with many setbacks, Godfrey said, including an unemployment rate that is growing faster than the state's. Also, a series of layoffs has shrunk the Box Elder work force by 14 percent since the employment peak of July 2008.
But in the county's favor is that much of its work force -- more than 50 percent -- is trained in manufacturing, he said.
As for what's next with the economic analysis, Fife said it is still in early stages. "So now it's, 'How do you implement this?' "
Fife said he received many positive comments and suggestions, particularly about public works. Some people, he said, suggested that the county work harder to preserve its agricultural efforts over manufacturing.
Many of the residents had attended the meeting planning to speak about federal funds the city receives for various projects, said Mecham, who lives in the county.
"If you can look your kids in the eyes and keep borrowing these federal funds, just go ahead and do it, because I can't sleep at night," he said. "Everybody thinks federal funds are free. They're not free -- somebody's going to pay for them. And, unfortunately, we're targeting our kids and grandkids."