Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. Project Director Laura Sibilia presented the board with a copy of an application for a federal Economic Development Administration disaster recovery grant. Under the grant, which would cover Windham and Bennington counties, an EDA position would be created and assigned to the area to help coordinate certain recovery projects and, according to the application, provide a link between local, state, and federal programs.
Sibilia sought board members’ signatures on a revised letter of support, noting that their previous letter had been kicked back by the Economic Development Administration because it was too general. At issue was a contribution of $30,000 worth of work by Dover’s economic development team, Ken Black and Linda Anelli. Sibilia said the $30,000 wasn’t “new” spending, it was money already being spent on Dover’s economic development department. Under the grant, it would be counted as a cash contribution.
Board members, Black, and Anelli questioned the contribution, and whether it would have an impact on Black and Anelli’s regular duties. Black noted that with “in kind” contributions, the EDA requires that the contribution “must be committed and not encumbered.” Black asked if that meant he would be working on EDA projects, rather than working on town of Dover projects. Anelli suggested the numbers would mean that she’d be working 17 weeks on EDA projects.
Sibilia explained that Dover’s contribution wasn’t considered an “in kind” contribution, it was considered a cash contribution. She said that Dover’s economic development department would continue to work on the same projects they’re already working on, and wouldn’t be tasked with new EDA objectives. Their only requirement under the grant would be to submit a periodic report on their work. Sibilia also explained that “committed and unencumbered” meant that the economic development time had already been approved by voters. But Black, Anelli, and board member William Buswell appeared to be suspicious of Sibilia’s explanations,
“I’m not trying to filibuster,” said Buswell, “but I have some major concerns regarding our employees, Ken and Linda, and what is really expected of them.”
“Ken and Linda’s bosses are the town of Dover and this board,” Sibilia said. “The town has pledged, as part of this agreement, to give some reporting – a piece of paper to the Windham Regional Commission. There are no ‘boss’ changes.”
Buswell asked if the BDCC or the Windham and Bennington regional commissions were charging any kind of “administrative fee” for their work under the grant. Sibilia replied that all three of the entities had pledged a “significant” amount of staff time to the project. “So we’re giving,” she said.
Buswell asked why Dover should agree to allow $30,000 of their work to count toward the grant contribution, when some towns will contribute no staff time and still benefit from the grant. “You have Londonderry, Jamaica, and Newfane. Sure they were hit hard, but they’re not putting anything up and they’re going to benefit. Is it fair and equitable?”
Sibilia said the other towns don’t have economic development staff who are already working on the goals. “I’ve been working on this since November,” Sibilia said. “And the amount of coordination that was needed to bring all of these partners together, I’m proud of. I’d love to get all of the towns to pledge some staff time but, frankly, this is late. Right now we’re looking at September, almost a year after the flood. This is a judgment Dover had to make and still can make.”
Buswell said he was concerned about language in the town’s original letter of support that he thought overplayed the impact of the storm in Dover. He offered his own rewrite of Dover’s letter of support. After a read of Buswell’s letter, she said it appeared that it would be acceptable to the EDA.
Anelli interjected that she felt “like a pawn in a chess game. People keep talking about us, but I’ve never seen any of this information. It’s redefining my job.”
Board member Randy Terk disagreed. “It’s not, I believe you’re misunderstanding,” he said. “The contribution means the work you usually do can be counted toward this grant. Nothing changes for you except that a form has to be filled out with hours and work because it can be applied toward this grant.”
Anelli again referred to the EDA language that an “in kind” contribution “cannot be encumbered or conditioned.”
“It just means that the funds have already been approved,” Sibilia said. “Not encumbered.”
Reacting to the perceived suspicion about the grant and the application process, Sibilia said that there may be some unknowns regarding the grant, but she would stand behind her word. “I live in this town, and I’ve been ethical,” she said. “If there’s a problem, if something is not the way I said it was, I’m pretty concerned about my word, and I’ll be back here.”
Terk moved to approve the letter of support drafted by Sibilia, noting that “it’s also the intent of this board that if an issue is raised where the ordinary (economic development) workload is not sufficient, that’s not what we agreed to.”
Buswell signaled that he wanted to continue the discussion, but was cut off when board member Vicki Capitani called the question. Three board members voted in favor of Terk’s motion. Buswell voted “present.”
Under questioning from Adam Levine, Buswell explained that his “present” vote was a reference to votes made by Barrack Obama when he was a member of the Illinois Senate. The “present” vote is neither an “aye” nor a “nay” vote. Levine asked him to clarify whether he was abstaining, or voting nay.
“I’m abstaining,” Buswell said. “The letter makes us exaggerate what happened in Dover. I would be in favor of some language changes.”
“So ‘nay,’ then,” Levine said.
“I’m not comfortable with the changes,” Buswell said.
“That would be nay,” persisted Levine.
After the vote, board members took Buswell to task for an email exchange that they said violated Vermont’s Open Meeting law, and personally attacked Sibilia.
“You can’t send letters to two or more selectpersons,” said Terk. “It’s in violation of Open Meeting. You have to send it to Nona, and she can distribute it.”
Buswell disagreed, and said he had talked to the Vermont Secretary of State’s office regarding the matter. “Laura sent a letter to the board to approve and sign last week. I answered, giving her my reasons why it wasn’t a correct thing to do.”
“Who cares?” shouted Levine, frustrated. “Laura is an elected official in Dover,” continued Capitani. “I take offense at how you personally attack her. It’s rude, it’s not fair, and I think she should have the same courtesy as anyone else.”
Buswell said he didn’t think it was a personal attack. “Laura and I don’t get along for whatever reason,” Buswell said. “It’s improper for any of you to bring up that I violated Open Meeting. I didn’t insult Laura. If anything, her email back to me was an insult.”
The board moved on to the next agenda item, a new charge for the Bitown Economic Development Committee. Buswell said he had several concerns, wondering if the committee should concern itself with things that are happening in only one town, questioning whether the BDCC should be involved, whether there should be term limits for committee members, and whether Dover’s economic development personnel should have a seat on the committee. Terk took the concerns one by one. “Anything that happens in the two towns benefits the other town. If Wilmington puts in their riverwalk and more people come and stay in the valley, Dover is going to benefit because a lot of the lodging is in Dover. We’re attached at the hip.
“I understand you have a lot of issues with respect to the BDCC, judging from your comment about them getting a fee out of this (EDA grant),” Terk continued. “But the BDCC is involved in a lot of economic development issues in the region, and their input is important.”
Terk also said Black and Anelli weren’t on the board because they are “implementers,” but that Black attends most bitown meetings and participates in discussions. After additional discussion, however, the board agreed to add a change to the bitown charge that would give Dover’s economic development team a seat on the committee.
In other matters, the board approved a municipal tax rate of 36.54 cents, an 8.9% increase over last year’s municipal rate of 33.55 cents. The total residential tax rate will be $1.77, and the nonresidential tax rate will be $1.7584. The state wide education tax rate was raised by 2 cents this year.