The meeting, held early on a Friday morning nearly two weeks ago, was prompted by a shake-up in the bitown economic development effort when bitown planner Bill Colvin resigned his position. Board members hoped to clarify their town’s role in the bitown economic development process, and how it would be complemented by the work of the DEDC and Dover Economic Development Specialist Patrick Moreland.
But members of the public in attendance at the meeting were focused on a recent list of goals the selectboard set for Moreland, as well as the use and disbursement of funds derived from the town’s one percent local option tax. Saying that she was speaking for a group of “residents, nonresidents, business owners, and taxpayers,” Linda Anelli said she was concerned about the new goals and the direction of the DEDC. “Our biggest question is the goals for 2012,” she said. “They are 180 degrees from the original mission and original priorities. Only telecommunications remains.”
The list of priorities, developed by the DEDC and approved by the selectboard, includes the development of telecommunications infrastructure, a review of Dover zoning bylaws, assessing the impact of Mount Snow’s master plan on Dover, developing Dover’s capital planning, identifying impediments to attracting business to Dover, and promoting the value of the school.
Anelli and former board member Adam Levine both noted that the committee’s and planner’s priorities had originally been set by public opinion, through a survey, and suggested that any change should also be driven by public opinion. “We believe if any organization wanted such a sea change it should be incumbent on whether the public wanted that change,” Anelli said. “Did anyone consider another survey? It is, after all, the public’s money.”
Anelli also raised the fundamental issue of how economic development should be defined in Dover. While some have seen economic development as a way to broaden and diversify the local business community, Anelli appeared to suggest that economic development dollars should be concentrated on improvement or expansion of existing businesses. “The economic development dollars should be partially, if not entirely, spent to stimulate the present business community to create new jobs,” she said. “If there isn’t a vibrant business community, there won’t be jobs.”
DEDC chair Ken Black noted that the priorities that had been set for Moreland had been discussed with economic development consultant John Mullin, who conducted the (then) tritown economic development study. Black said that the discussion with Mullin prompted the board to look at the economic development planner’s goals as they apply to a long-term plan.
Responding to a specific complaint that the town’s economic development specialist shouldn’t be “promoting the school,” selectboard member Dwayne Coneeny explained that the goal was simply to promote the school’s track record of excellence as a reason to live and do business in the town. Another goal questioned by Anelli, the evaluation of the town’s zoning bylaw, was also business-related, Coneeny said. “How does the zoning bylaw affect business?” he said. “We’ve been working on a sign ordinance and have seen very little input from the business community even though it’s been on our agenda four times.”
DEDC member Laura Sibilia reminded the group that Dover was in a better position than most towns, thanks to the work they had already done, both in the DEDC and in the bitown planning process. “We had the wherewithal to start,” she said. “And sometimes it has been very chaotic, as anything new is bound to be. But I’d differ with anyone who says we’ve gotten nothing done. We’ve accomplished a lot.”
Sibilia suggested that one of the problems has been that too many people have felt free to intervene in the regular governmental process by offering their unsolicited economic development priorities directly to the economic development specialist. Levine called on Moreland to “be the professional and show the board how to get things done” even if it meant “getting stronger with everyone that grabs your ears, including this board.”
As if to prove Sibilia’s point, several people offered differing views on how the DEDC should proceed, the most effective use of economic development money, and what Moreland’s top priorities should be. Anelli said that there was a perception that “unilateral” decisions were being made, without an opportunity for public input.
Julie Wilson echoed Anelli’s call for more public information regarding the committee’s work and economic development in general. She said that, although she reads all the DEDC and selectboard minutes, the goals and the reasoning behind them came as a surprise to her.