OGDEN — Ogden officials have picked from within to fill the vacant post of director of economic development, the administrator who helps lead efforts to redevelop the town and attract new businesses here.
Brandon Cooper, who had been deputy director of the Department of Community and Economic Development, was elevated to director. He served as interim director and succeeds Tom Christopulous, who retired in early March.
“He’s got an incredible record here,” Mayor Mike Caldwell said at Ogden City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, when the body voted 6-1 to elevate Cooper to manager. Cooper served 10 years as assistant manager and worked for the city for more than 14 years in all, since 2007.
The Economic Development Department has been instrumental over the years in strengthening and revitalizing the city. Currently, the department is participating in reorganization efforts of the Wonder Block at the northwest corner of 26th Street and Grant Avenue in downtown and the former Rite Aid site on the south side of 24th Street between Monroe Boulevard and Quincy Avenue, among other locations. .
Like Caldwell, other city leaders and members of the business community came forward to congratulate Cooper, one of 23 candidates for the position. Some of them spoke during the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting, before city officials voted to hire Cooper.
Nate Harbertson, a local real estate agent and businessman, noted the town’s growth over the past 10 years, thanks to the efforts of the economic development department and other town leaders and developers.
Cooper is “trained for the job. He’s ready for the job,” Harbertson said. “It would be a waste of city resources and community resources not to appoint him to this position and move forward with the phenomenal economic development that has occurred in our city.”
Kym Buttschardt, another local entrepreneur, noted the training Cooper received under Christopulos. “He knows what he’s doing, he’s mentored the best,” she said.
A panel comprised of representatives from Weber State University, the Ogden School District, the Ogden Downtown Alliance, and other organizations reviewed the nominations and provided input into the selection process.
However, some expressed hesitation.
Ben Nadolski, the only city council member who voted no to Cooper’s choice, praised Cooper’s expertise and said he should stay with the city. At the same time, however, he expressed concerns about Cooper’s employment contract with the city.
“I just have real concerns about the circumstances leading up to tonight, why a contract of this nature is necessary. I don’t like the precedent it sets for other (City) managers,” said Nadolski, without going into specifics. Nadolski alluded to “managerial challenges over Brandon” which he says may have prompted Cooper to demand the terms of the contract he ended up receiving, yet another times without giving further details.
Ogden resident Heath Satow spoke during the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting, expressing his opposition to Cooper’s choice. He cited the economic development official’s handling of a 2019 deal with a developer on the city’s sale of the Brown’s Ice Cream Building at 2557 Grant Ave. It is in the Wonder Block area in downtown Ogden that is a key part of the redevelopment efforts.
As Satow understands, there were several inconsistencies in the information Cooper provided to city officials as they evaluated the sale of the building. Satow says other developers would have been willing to pay more than the $100,000 the city actually received for the structure, but they were apparently unaware that it was for sale.
Caldwell, for his part, said Friday that the city has been “open and transparent” about all of its development projects. “I would say I completely disagree with Heath on this and I don’t think he has all the information,” Caldwell said.
Cooper and Nadolski, meanwhile, did not immediately return phone calls Friday seeking additional comment.
Under the terms of Cooper’s contract with the city, he is to receive an annual salary of $141,750. The contract contains a provision guaranteeing that he will receive one year’s salary plus the cash value of six months’ benefits, payable in a lump sum, if he is laid off.