REFLECTION CONNECTION: Open Letter About Economic Development Committee:
[Generally, the ‘Reflection Connection’ section is our ‘catch-all’ for short pieces of wisdom, observations and comments that have no other obvious home in the newspaper. Here we make an exception and reprint a longer piece, a letter sent by Selectman Jack Petroploulos to the BoS, meant to be read in public session at a weekly Selectman’s meeting concerning the performance of the Economic Development Committee. We agree with Selectman Petropoulos’ observations in this instance and thank him for having the fortitude to state what we believe to be obvious.]
Almost two years ago, after being disappointed at the productivity of the EDC, as Chair of the BOS, I proposed a policy that we get annual reports from our major committees. The hope was that by calling attention to our successes we would further them, and by illuminating our failures we would avoid repeating them. In my view, the EDC is one of the ‘most major’ committees we have. Last year’s report was a tremendous disappointment. I was encouraged to see some new talent come on the committee shortly thereafter, and to hear the Mission Statement that followed.
That was over a year ago, and was the last productive thing that I have seen from the EDC. I am realistic enough not to expect to see a churn of accomplishment from a committee like this, as the outcomes you seek take time and are uncertain. But the absence of anything tangible is concerning.
They are all the more concerning in light of the fact that tangible things are available for you to deliver. I have asked for an inventory of available commercial areas with estimates of revenue potential. This is such an elementary requirement for any planning project, that I am concerned that I even had to ask for it. I have seen it on your minutes as an issue you have discussed but the last mention of it was months and months ago. This cannot be hard and it is foundational for anything you are going to try to do.
It will help us to set reasonable expectations for what can be accomplished through classic commercial development. It is certainly true that more creative economic development could exceed the constraints of zoning and available space, but we should know what our foundation is.
I have seen accomplishments in the form of economic development. These include a sewer, a reinvigorated relationship with Shaws, and a proposal for a marijuana facility. Rather than coming from the EDC, these things came from our Town Manager and our Board. From the EDC I saw an immense, almost obsessive effort put into overturning the Board’s decision on Prescott School.
As I am not here tonight in person to explain fully my disappointment, I will say only that your role is advisory. You have volunteered and have been selected to do the hard work of coming up with a strategy and advising the Board which is responsible to accept or reject your advice and to be held to task for the outcome. For better or for worse we have chosen to preserve Prescott. Now we must all work to assure that outcome. If we are not rowing in the same direction then we are dysfunctional and will get nowhere.
I personally expect more from this Committee than I have seen both in terms of output and cooperation. I am sure that there will be mention of how Committees do hard work, and that we should be dedicated to our volunteers, and that criticism like this is a disincentive to volunteer. I understand these sentiments. There is no under-appreciation on my part of the gift that you, and all volunteers give when you give your time.
But if volunteer time does not produce tangible benefits then it is not well spent, and the opportunity of that elapsed time is gone. Town government is not like rec soccer. The outcome of our work has real consequence on people’s lives. We cannot afford to give out praise just for participation. I regret that all that I can express is appreciation for your time at this point. I hope that some time soon I can express appreciation for a set of accomplishments that have clearly furthered our mutually agreed upon goals.