JCDA hires Cantler as interim director

Nathan Baker • May 28, 2020 at 9:00 PM

Dianna Cantler will be the Johnson City Development Authority’s interim executive director once the board ends its management contract with her current employer, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, in July.

In a called meeting Thursday held online, the Development Authority’s board members unanimously decided to offer Cantler the interim director position and gave themselves until December to make a permanent hire.

Cantler has been managing the authority’s operations for years as NETREP’s Downtown Development Manager and Director.

The Development Authority contracted with NETREP, originally as the Washington County Economic Development Council, for her services and for an accountant, but this year, the board decided to end its contract with the regional corporation to gain more independence and to change its focus.

In its regular meeting two weeks ago, the authority’s Human Resources Committee recommended hiring Cantler as its permanent director, but a majority of board members decided to call a meeting this week to discuss the position without Cantler present.

Some members said the authority’s focus was changing as it transitions away from events planning and marketing and toward encouraging real estate development, and the roles expected of its director may change.

“We haven’t nailed down a job description ... that would enable us to concretely revise the position,” board member Jodi Jones said. “That really puts us in a stuck place in terms of what exactly it is we’re moving into with a new director.”

Jones said it was too soon to permanently hire a director until the board agrees on what it expects from the person in that position.

Shannon Castillo said she was concerned the board was asking too much of Cantler, especially as more responsibilities are added when JCDA separates from NETREP in July.

Board members have discussed creating two positions from some of the responsibilities previously expected of Cantler and some of the responsibilities they hope a director will perform.

Board member Joe Wise said he believed the relationship between the development authority’s board and the director had been muddled during the terms of the management contracts with NETREP and its predecessor.

“If the JCDA is to become the vibrant kind of organization it has the potential of being, we need an executive director who leads, and a board that governs, and I don’t think in the current place we’re starting out with a foundation that’s plumb and square to build a house like that,” Wise said. “I think we owe it to ourselves to invest the time to put those blocks out there in order.”

Hank Carr set the six-month deadline to hire a permanent director to keep the board’s feet to the fire.

He said he wasn’t ready to hire someone to permanently lead the authority until the board, “figures out what we want to be when we grow up.”

Cantler said Thursday afternoon she plans to work with the board as the JCDA transitions to an independent entity.

“I have enjoyed the almost six years I have served as the Director of Downtown Development for NeTREP and look forward to working with the JCDA Board of Directors to transition to their organization,” she said in an email. “There are still many details to discuss and hopefully, we can move forward quickly to continue the positive momentum that downtown Johnson City has experienced. This is a new stage for our community and should lay the framework to enhance development and continued revitalization for Downtown Johnson City.”

As interim, Cantler’s salary will be $60,000 annually, and she will stay at the same level of benefits she earned under the NETREP contract.