Last month, Southborough’s Economic Development Committee asked the Board of Selectmen to help them become a more permanent standing committee. To do it, they are seeking shelter under a defunct commission created 50 years before the EDC was formed.
In February 2013, selectmen formed the EDC. Their stated purpose was to brainstorm goals and strategies, plus create a roadmap for taking advantage of economic development opportunities. While the board has the authority to create committees, they are limited to ad hoc status. That means they have a specific purpose and limited time frame.
Cut to three years later – the EDC had an employee and a long term view for supporting the Town’s economy. Town Administrator Mark Purple suggested to the group it was time to shed their ad hoc status for a more permanent one.
EDC Chair Dave McCay first brought the suggestion to the board in February. The idea was for the EDC to be dissolved and re-instated as the Industrial Development Commission. The currently defunct IDC was adopted by Town Meeting in 1963 from a state statute.*
Given Southborough’s aversion to becoming an industrial town, the group still plans to operate under the public “Economic Development Committee” name. Back in February, questions arose as to whether that would be allowed without passing new state legislation. When McCay returned to the board in June, he told them that wasn’t an issue.
But new questions were raised, about language on term length of appointments. Former Selectman Bill Boland pointed out that the IDC language specifies re-appointments of 5-year terms. Selectmen and some residents have opposed having appointed terms longer than most elected terms. And Boland told the board that the IDC became defunct when residents balked at signing up for the long term.
Vice Chair Brian Shea wondered what was allowed for initial appointment terms and staggered re-appointments. The state code specifies:
When a commission is first established, the terms of the members shall be for such length, not exceeding five years, and so arranged that the terms of approximately one fifth of the members will expire each year, and their successors shall be appointed for terms of five years each.
Shea wasn’t sure if after the service gap they could treat the new appointments as initial ones with some shorter than 3 years. He posited that they could then go to Town Meeting to ask for a change in term.
Selectman Paul Cimino suggested they hold off on transforming the committee until getting legal opinion as to how they can handle limiting terms. The board agreed to wait for advice from counsel and discuss at an upcoming meeting.
Before that decision, two advisory members spoke (as individuals) against the EDC’s request. Sam Stivers claimed the EDC hasn’t made a real case for the change. He also argued that EDC has continually failed to show measurement of their success. He was asking for how many jobs were created and tax dollars increased as a result of their work.
McCay rebutted that the case for change was if the BOS saw their work as a long-term effort that should continue. And he resented Stivers implication that they hadn’t responded to Advisory’s requests. He said their data may not be perfect but they do measure outputs.
Cimino suggested that Stivers remarks were irrelevent to the topic at hand. He said the form the EDC should take was unrelated to their budget vs value. He remarked that Stivers had argued against the budget at a past Town Meeting and would likely again at the next one.
Karen Muggeridge suggested it would be more proper to seek new status under state legislation rather than retro-fitting to outdated language. Selectman Dan Kolenda, who represents the BOS on the EDC, disagreed. He argued it would be creating work for no purpose. He believed the IDC language is broad enough to cover EDC’s work.
Before the next meeting, McCay said he would talk to members about the idea of staggering terms. Cimino suggested drawing names out of a hat to decide whose terms would be shortest.
*The IDC as defined under state law allows towns to:
establish a development and industrial commission for the promotion and development of the industrial resources of said city or town. Such commission shall conduct researches into industrial conditions, investigate and assist in the establishment of educational or commercial projects, including projects involving private enterprise, for the purpose of expanding or strengthening the local economy, and shall seek to co-ordinate the activities of unofficial bodies organized for said purposes, and may advertise, prepare, print and distribute books, maps, charts and pamphlets which in its judgment will further the purposes for which it is established. The commission may appoint such clerks and other employees as it may require.