Economic Development Corp. cuts ties with town

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

In an action that caught the town off guard, the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors voted July 17 to modify its bylaws to remove all references to town-appointed members on their board.

In effect, the action will make the nonprofit economic development organization totally autonomous, operating privately and independently of the town on business attraction efforts.

Former Selectman Woody Woodward had served as a corporation board member until he retired from his selectmen’s seat in June. Under the original bylaws, selectmen had authority to appoint three BEDC board members.

The BEDC’s action comes five weeks after town meeting voters decided to cut the $9,000 in the town budget that had been earmarked to support the corporation, which was formed in February 2011 and granted funding its first two years. If the Town Meeting vote of no confidence had any bearing on the BEDC’s decision to remove town-appointed members from its board, no one was saying so at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, when the decision was announced.

Chairman Doug Taft only read from the July 17 letter from Skip Sullivan, BEDC Liaison to the Town of Bridgton. The letter states that two-thirds of the corporation’s directors voted on July 16 “to remove any and all references to Town-Appointed Members to the Corporation.” Doing so will require that a new MOU, or memorandum of understanding, be drafted.

Sullivan’s letter says the BEDC is “extremely grateful” to the town and its selectmen for all that it has done to support the corporation, and “This action in no way is meant to minimize that gratitude.” The explanation given was that, “We believe this action will reinforce our mission as an independent 501c(3) corporation to work to help secure the growth of business in Bridgton.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said it is not unusual for an economic development organization to “solidify its independence” from town government. He said that Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, “is not a liaison” with the corporation, but works with them as needed.

Both Berkowitz and former Economic Development Director Alan Manoian spearheaded efforts to form the corporation, and helped recruit representatives from Bridgton’s prime economic sectors, such as healthcare, banking, manufacturing and tourism, to serve on the board. Early on, the MOU stipulated that the economic development director set aside 12 hours a week to work with the corporation, but that requirement was later dropped. Berkowitz said at the time of its formation that the corporation represented the kind of public-private partnership that is essential to successful future business growth in town.

Sullivan’s letter does not, however, use the word “partnership” in describing the BEDC’s future relationship with the town. The letter states, “We look forward to our continued work on behalf of Bridgton, and our continued cooperation and coordination with the selectboard and the Office of Planning, Economic and Community Development.”

To that end, the BEDC letter asks “to see a new MOU developed between the parties that would outline the working relationship with the town.” The terms could be discussed at a workshop with both boards, along with Berkowitz and Krieg, the letter suggests.

Taft agreed a workshop was needed, and would probably be held some time in September. Beyond that, he did not comment.

But Selectman Paul Hoyt said, “I think it would have been nice to know about this ahead of time, instead of coming to us to say we need a new MOU.” Fellow Selectman Ken Murphy agreed, saying, “I tend to agree with Paul.”

There has been some turnover of membership on the BEDC board since its formation. Their website does not list the names of board members, but in a 2011 report to selectmen, the members were listed as Lee Eastman, president; Holly Dvorak, vice president; Liz Marcella, secretary; and David Frum, treasurer; along with Sullivan, David Allen, Zenya Brackett, Madelyn Litz, Mark Lopez, Bill Macdonald and Woodward. Laurie Allen and Ed Rock were listed as having recently resigned.

Lopez was at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, but made no comment on Sullivan’s letter.



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