Select Board Dissolves Economic Development Committee
by Russell Harris
At the Economic Development Committee’s [EDC] urging, Select Board members voted unanimously to dissolve the 10-year old committee at their June 10 meeting.
Select Board Chair Alison Manugian, liaison to the EDC, explained that individual committee member interests generally were not in the area of economic development and consequently, she said, members of the EDC voted to ask the Select Board to disband their committee.
For most of its 10-year tenure, the committee worked quietly behind the scenes on economic development analysis and on making Groton a more business-friendly town. Among other responsibilities, the EDC was given the task of looking at commercial business opportunities to see if expanding business could help mitigate residential tax rates. Manugian said they discovered that there were not enough business opportunities to impact the residential tax rate significantly even if additional commercial properties come onto the tax rolls.
But about three years ago, the EDC turned away from their advisory role and assumed an overtly political stance, pushing policy in conflict with the Select Board. [The EDC is an advisory committee appointed by the Select Board to offer advice on economic development and related policy and has no independent or statutory authority of its own.]
A May 23, 2017 story in this newspaper reported that the EDC was trying to lure 'Evans On The Common' from Townsend as a tenant or possible owner of Prescott School, contrary to Select Board plans to use the former school building as a community center under the management of the Friends of Prescott. In addition to this advocacy, a member of the EDC accused a newly-elected member of the Select Board of making threatening comments.
Although neither the name of the EDC member nor the Select Board member was publicly revealed, the dust-up left a residue of ill will that ultimately may have been a factor in the EDC losing respect and mission focus and possibly influencing EDC members decision to recommend disbaning the committee as the best course.
That this series of events may have been a precursor leading to the dissolution of the current EDC is buttressed by both the Select Board and Town Manger Mark Haddad comments favoring dissolving the EDC, despite acknowledging the need for work on economic development.
Town Manger Haddad said, ‘Disbanding the current committee and waiting for a proposal before creating a new committee would make sense.” He added, “I don't see any reason why you can't disband and then when the recommendation comes in, create a new committee with a new charge.”
Town Manager Haddad said that both Ayer and Acton have an employee actively going out and recruiting businesses to come to town. He added, “But, I don't think we would be able to support that position financially.”
It appears that town government and EDC members all felt that a ‘reset’ was the best way to proceed, even though most of the members who had actively pursued a political agenda had resigned.
According to the town website, the purpose of the EDC was to “facilitate a community dialog about the importance of a diversified local economy and to assist existing and new business enterprise in Groton to expand and to attract new businesses to town.”
Town Manager Haddad noted that the Economic Development Committee was formed around the time he started working as Groton Town Manager. He said that one of the committee’s first goals was to work with him to improve the permitting process, making it easier and more business-friendly. Haddad said, “I receive nothing but accolades from our staff now and people about how cooperative we are and how friendly and coordinated the process is. Online permitting has really helped that as well, that has really been excellent.” He added that the EDC’s work on the Four Corner’s development project had been a great success. He said, “Because of the sewer system, Shaw's has been out actively marketing their property.”
Members of the Economic Development Committee are: Alison Manugian, Michael Rasmussen, Russell Burke, Chris Furcolo and John Spoka. Although the members voted to disband, Select Board Chairman Manugian said they all care about the town’s development and expressed interest in being appointed to a ‘capital or a master planning effort’ should the Planning Board appoint a new group to look at that.’