In The News › Bond, tax board chief retiring

Feb 29, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Bond, tax board chief retiring

Bond, tax board chief retiring
Agency has been busy since Katrina
Friday, February 29, 2008
By Kate Moran
Business writer

Jimmie Thorns Jr. plans to relinquish his post next month as president of New Orleans’ Industrial Development Board, a once sleepy agency that has issued billions of dollars in bonds and tax abatements since Hurricane Katrina.

Thorns has occupied a seat on the board since 1983, with a brief intermission when the board went dormant for a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He provides institutional knowledge and, because of his longevity, is the board’s its most powerful member.

Thorns, 61, said he decided to retire because board business has consumed five to six hours of his days since the storm. The board has no executive director, and he has handled most of what would be a director’s duties on a volunteer basis.

“It’s sometimes difficult to have a life,” said Thorns, who also runs his own real estate appraisal business, Thorns Consulting, and serves on several other boards, including that of the New Orleans African-American Museum.

The Industrial Development Board issues taxable and tax-exempt bonds that help finance real estate development. It also grants property tax abatements as an incentive to developers who promise to generate jobs, sales tax revenue and other benefits for the city.

While the board handled only a few requests a year before Katrina, its docket has exploded since the federal government made Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds available to developers after the storm.

“I think we have taken this board and made it the most viable economic development tool for the city,” Thorns said.

His tenure was not without controversy, however. Last year, the Bureau of Governmental Research and other ethics watchdogs criticized Thorns for accepting a $500,000 contract for appraisal work from the Housing Authority of New Orleans while the agency had proposals before his board.

Thorns said at the time that a lawyer checked with the state Ethics Board, which determined there was no conflict of interest because the housing authority is a government agency, not a person or private business.

More recently, the City Council has urged the Industrial Development Board to establish standards for how it awards tax abatements and other incentives to developers. The board requires developers to pay for a cost-benefit analysis before their application is approved, but the board has not turned down a single request since the storm.

Thorns led a brainstorming session Wednesday in which board members debated what sort of standards it wanted to apply. At that meeting, he informed his colleagues that he planned to resign March 31.

“I’m not running away from you,” he said. “We’re going to do an orderly transition, and I’ll still contribute to the knowledge bank.”

His departure will leave two vacancies on the 15-member board. Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson has responsibility for one of the appointments, and Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell will be responsible for naming a replacement for Thorns.

Thorns said the board would choose a new president at its next meeting March 18, which will be his last. “It’s time to move on,” he said.

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Kate Moran can be reached at kmoran@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3491.

Feb 29, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

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