Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Incentive Programs; This Should Never Happen

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Incentive Programs; This Should Never Happen

Article excerpt

When a company that you co-own is raided by officials from seemingly every government agency with an acronym, that's not good.

And when two of those agencies have "FBI" and "IRS"as acronyms, that's really not good.

Small wonder, then, that the recent raid of a Commonwealth Avenue barbecue sauce plant co-owned by City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has raised countless eyebrows.

But more importantly, it should raise a whole series of questions.

Here are just a few of the more troubling ones:

- It's now clear that Cowealth - the company that runs the barbecue sauce plant and is co-owned by Councilwoman Brown and her mother, JoAnn - never had a sustainable business plan.

So how did Cowealth ever manage to pass the vetting process that enabled it to receive city loans and grants, totalling more than a half-million dollars, several years ago?

- Despite a city requirement that it provide audited financial statements every year, Cowealth didn't do so in 2014 or 2015.

So why did it take until this summer for the city to get serious about insisting that Cowealth finally provide those overdue financial statements? And why did it so long for the city to inform Cowealth that it was in default of the economic development agreement that provided the company with city financial assistance?

- When the city decided in 2011 to use its Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund to provide financial support for Cowealth's BBQ sauce plant, Katrina and JoAnn Brown had pledged in return to create 56 new jobs at the facility.

So why wasn't the city regularly monitoring whether Cowealth was living up to its responsibility of adding jobs - and doing so at a proper pace to reach the pledged 56 new positions?

Why was it only this year that the city discovered that Cowealth hadn't created a single documented new job, much less the 56 it promised?

Clearly, the raid suggests that Cowealth was guided by little sense of accountability as it ran the barbecue sauce plant over the past several years. …

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