The Federal Economic Development Administration had given the county money to use in a revolving loan fund to help local businesses. The money, of course, came with clearly defined rules on how it should be used, among them:
- The loans should be repaid so that the money could later be loaned to other businesses--thus, the name revolving.
- Loans should never be given to lure jobs from one state to another.
- The loan to an individual business should never exceed $200,000, but Whirlpool Corp. received $610,000.
The county agreed to forgive both loans and they became grants, depleting the revolving loan fund and depriving future businesses the opportunity to receive low-interest loans for economic development. Yet the county gave loans to a multi-billion dollar corporation, Whirlpool, and to Harbor Town.
It took a number of years for the federal government to catch Berrien County and Whirlpool. The federal government discovered the county's revolving loan fund no longer existed, and it insisted the county pay the money back.
Somebody should go to jail! The scope of the county's violations of the federal loan law states either a bold, deliberate act or gross negligence.
Berrien County believes that they are above the law. I am very disappointed that Berrien County still believes today that the law is not for them, but only for Benton Harbor residents.
It seems county officials are not sorry that the county violated the federal law. They are just sorry the county got caught, because they believed they had US Representative and heir to Whirlpool, Fred Upton, on their side.
This is a terrible message coming from government officials, who certainly expect citizens and county employees to follow the law, rules, and ordinances they enact.
My complaint is the county helped Whirlpool, a company that did not need help. The Berrien County officials should not try to defend it. And you should give the taxpayers a complete history of the Federal Economic Development Act taxpayer dollars. We must confront them. Let's take control of this country away from the corporations and build a society where the people, not the corporations, make the decisions.
-Rev. Edward Pinkney