2016-07-29 / Letters

‘A bit cynical’ about future of economic committee

To the editor:

Citizens claim to be weary of bully politics going on at a national level where browbeating seems to have won over measured and thoughtful civility. It seems now to have arrived in Kennebunk.

I have just finished reading Duke Harrington’s Post story on the heated confrontation between Rachael Phipps, who has been seeking an appointment to the Kennebunk Economic Development Committee, and the board of selectmen. More specifically, her complaint that a conspiracy has been afoot to keep her off the committee.

I have been a member of the Economic Development Committee for a dozen years. However, my thoughts on Phipps’s candidacy for the committee and how selectmen have handled this situation are mine alone and should no way be interpreted as the position of the committee or its members.

By way of background, while I am sure there are other motives for community involvement, I joined the committee in 2004, following a business career the majority of which was spent working as a senior executive at Inc. Magazine (the magazine for small business) and the National Federation of Independent Business (the largest association of small business owners in the U.S.). Both assignments included work with dozens of local, state and national economic development agencies as diverse as the New York New Jersey Port Authority to the Northern Ireland Development Agency.

I felt that with a business background of working with small business owners elsewhere, I might be able to help business owners in my own community.

My first year was spent as an alternate and it was mostly listening. Other members have had similar experience, perhaps by first attending a meeting or two and/or becoming an alternate that would eventually lead to full membership.

My point in all this background?

Like any town committee, our Economic Development Committee meetings are open to the public. And in the dozen years I have attended meetings — never once have I ever seen Phipps at a meeting. Not once. The committee has always had members of the public sit in either alone or as groups with specific neighborhood concerns. Attendees have always been encouraged to participate. But somehow, Phipps just never seemed to bother attending even one meeting either before she first applied in 2012 or in these subsequent four years.

So my concern is not only with Ms. Phipp’s seemingly lack of interest in the committee’s actual monthly work but also my equal disappointment with how the board of selectmen resolved this issue. Following Phipps’ accusations her application was immediately acted upon and she won her seat on the committee by a 4-1 vote.

So why am I disappointed by this vote?

Four years ago, I appeared before selectmen stating simply that having lived in six communities across the country during my career that the strongest communities were always the most balanced. They were the ones that offered strong safe schools, stable and attractive residential neighborhoods and a prosperous local business community. I said then, “It’s a three legged stool folks — that simple.”

Business in Kennebunk places little strain on town services and certainly has minimal impact on our schools. And yet of the $30 million in tax revenue generated this year these same businesses both in terms of real estate taxes and an added local business tax will pay about $5 million (17 percent) of that annual amount. So naturally any shortfall in business taxes will always have to be made up by the residents. That seems to make the committee’s mission fairly clear, i.e. the committee should advise selectmen on how to best nurture our existing businesses while doing our utmost to attract new ones.

Therefore, one would think that as important as economic development is to any community that our board of selectmen would have actually shown greater interest in the committee’s work.

In the dozen years I have served on the committee, I can recall only three of our current selectmen that actually took the time (or interest) to attend just one meeting. Selectman Baldwin was of course obligated to attend because until June he was the committee chairman. Selectman Cluff has been equally obliged as the selectman liaison to the committee.

In other words, only one of our current selectmen, without any official status or prompting has so far been curious enough to take the time to sit in the audience of a meeting, to listen, to take measure of the issues being discussed and to appraise the kinds of people who serve on this committee.

All of this leaves me a bit cynical and wondering about the future of the committee. After reading the Post story, am I wrong to be asking what is Phipps’ agenda, whose interest in the committee seems limited to just being able to vote on issues?

But more importantly, how can a majority of our selectmen be making decisions on our town’s economic future by voting to appoint any person to a critical committee that they, either as candidates or later as selectmen, have never even bothered to personally monitor — just once — either as part of their overall sense of responsibility or merely out of curiosity as a voter and taxpayer.

So to be honest, I am not all that impressed by the swiftness that this issue was dealt with by selectmen. Closer to reality is this has become another case of bully politics where the squeaky wheel got the grease.

Angus Macaulay

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