A member of the Economic Development Agency resigned last week, citing interactions with the Board of Selectmen as his main reason.
Andrew Charron was out of town Wednesday but asked agency colleagues to read a letter on his behalf.
Charron said the agency had made great strides toward helping the town improve its tax base while retaining "small town virtues," declare Canton "open for business," bring relief to residents and fund "needed capital improvements proejct such as the pool and track projects. These go hand in hand with attracting more business and economic growth."
In his letter, Charron cited many actions by selectmen he thought inappropriate, most recently a recent e-mail from selectman Steve Roberto hat he called an attack on the Economic Development Agency.
In the e-mail Roberto responded to a proposal from EDA chairman Kevin Jackson supporting resident Chris Budnick, who had applied to serve on the agency.
In part, Roberto questioned Jackson’s use of the word “we” in an e-mail supporting Budnick. Roberto asked how the agency had come to a consensus on that and many other issues this summer when it hadn’t met in months.
“You have made several public comments recently about how the EDA has been discussing certain issues and endorse or oppose certain things. They seem to be meeting somewhere at sometime. Perhaps if your committee members are unavailable for a regular meeting you can schedule a special meeting to make your business open and available to the general public,” Roberto wrote.
Selectmen Tom Sevigny replied and said he felt the accusations were “inflammatory.” He said proof should be offered if someone felt they were holding secret meetings and said the issue should be discussed in an open meeting, not via e-mail.
Roberto also wrote that he appreciated Budnick’s willingness to serve but felt the EDA could use some diversification, perhaps a long-time resident who owned a “small to medium brick and mortar business.”At Wednesday’s meeting, the issue of Budnick’s appointment came up again.
Jackson said the agency has missed four meetings due to lack of a quorum and touted Budnick and his background as an U.S. Army officer and businessman.
"He is energetic, enthusiastic and anxious to serve our community,” Jackson said.
Jackson asked the board to add the appointment to its agenda.
"We have him courteously appearing, expecting to be appointed tonight,” Jackson said.
From there Sevigny motioned to add it.
With no resume or information in the front of him Selectman David Gilchrist Jr. said he felt he lacked information.
“I don’t have enough information to make a decision,” Gilchrist said.
Sevigny said appointments are routinely made with only an application and resume.
First Selectman Richard Barlow said he had told Jackson it would not be on the agenda until the next Board of Selectmen meeting. He later said the agency should have one Democrat on its roster.
Jackson responded, "With all due respect Dick we had about two years to fill position and now all of sudden we bring someone to the table that is eminently qualified for this position and there’s a whole hullabaloo that will be addressed in the next public comment. There’s a great deal of grief around this and this absolutely no reason that a qualified in candidate like this who is first in line to take a position should be considered.”
EDA member Glenn Arnold also expressed similar thoughts and emphatically said the EDA has not had any meetings outside of the public forum.
The board then voted on adding the item to the agenda, which failed 2-2, with Sevigny and Lowell Humphrey voting for it and Gilchrist and Barlow against. (Roberto was not yet at the meeting due to another commitment).
At the end of the meeting selectmen addressed the issues again.
Roberto said he felt his comments were blown out of proportion and referenced Charron’s allegations the he accused the EDA of being unfriendly to small business and that he wanted a “passive EDA.”
“I’m looking for an EDA that wants to work with the Board of Selectmen that doesn’t become personally offended when others want to offer thought or actions or strategies to be considered,” Roberto said. “It seems like every time I utter the words EDA someone’s feelings are hurt.”
Although Budnick lives in a different area of town and has lived here for 12 years, Roberto did reference the current membership of the EDA, pointing out that they are four individuals in the same “neighborhood," all roughly the same age and less than 10 years in town.
“Now there’s nothing wrong with that but the fact is I don’t see any problem with suggesting that we round out a board or commission with somebody that has decades in town and has personal property and business interests in town,” Roberto said. “My comment was that the commission lacked that perspective. It’s a fact and I think that perspective would be helpful.”
He also pointed to Charron’s letter that states with regard to the projects going to the ballot in November. Charron accused selectmen of holding the roads hostage by bundling them with the garage and proceeded to question the price of the garage, writing, “It was then disappointed to hear certain members voted against a track and field project on the basis of fiscal responsibility but not two minutes before approved what we all know is a huge cost for a public works garage.”
Roberto said he has heard the EDA make those statements but said they had offered no data, a better site or shown how it could be done less expensively.
Barlow, a Republican, called the EDA “pretty much a one-party agency" with one unaffiliated and three Republican members. He said the board should be bipartisan.
“I have been reaching out to Democrats in town and finally procured one that is willing to serve and possibly another one,” Barlow said. “It’s my intention to bring that individual to the board at the next meeting for your consideration.”
Still Humphrey felt Budnick was treated “fairly shabbily” and at deserved at least a vote.
Barlow said he had told Jackson it would not be on the agenda and said it was the chairman’s prerogative to still bring the individual to the meeting.
Sevigny said appointments are often done at the last minute and felt it a dangerous road to start looking for “various criteria” beyond political affiliation.
“For some reason Mr. Budnick’s application caused a stir," he said. “I don’t know why but it did.”
He said he did read Roberto’s comments as an attack but also said the EDA needs to realize that selectmen will sometimes go in different directions than they would like.
“I would like to see it dialed down on both sides,” he said. “We have a lot of important work to do on economic development and all that it encompasses over the next few years.”
Barlow said he felt the EDA has often been overly negative about the town.
As for as the word “we” being used several times this summer, Barlow said the problem might also be one of articulation.
“The only way any board and commission should be doing those kinds of things and saying we is if they do it in a formal, open forum,” Barlow said. “They need to understand a little bit more about the protocol and how they serve as an agency.”