Ever since First Selectman Steve Vavrek eliminated the economic development coordinator position from the town budget in 2010, there has been an annual debate among fellow Republicans and Democrats over whether or not to bring th e position back. Other than former Monroe Chamber of Commerce president, Teri Rotella, serving as coordinator on a part-time basis last year, Vavrek has been taking on the responsibilities himself.
"It seems like it gets put in the budget every year and taken out of the budget every year," said Steve Schapiro, who had been a longtime member of the Economic Development Commission. "It's eliminated every year."
During the Town Council meeting last week, Councilman Nick Kapoor, a Democrat, noted how the Council never voted to approve of Vavrek serving as economic development coordinator after the funding was removed from the current budget.
Town Councilwoman Enid Lipeles, a Republican, said, "When the first selectman eliminated the position and took it over, the Town Council didn't say, 'No. No.' To me, that was an approval."
Town Attorney John Fracassini's legal opinion was that the council could vote on it or do nothing.
Kapoor said, "I think a better course of action is, if the majority of the Town Council believes the first selectman should serve as economic development director, we should have a motion, discussion and vote instead of no vote."
Kapoor said the office of the first selectman is a full-time position and that the responsibilities are enormous, so he believes also serving as economic development coordinator is "too big a job" for Vavrek.
"I move that we ask the first selectman to appoint a citizen, not elected or an employee of the town, to serve as a part-time volunteer," Kapoor said.
Fellow Democrat, Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin, seconded it. But the motion was defeated 6-3 along party lines, with all six Republicans opposing it.
During the discussion leading up to the vote, Town Councilman Tony Unger, a Republican, said, "I certainly believe the first selectman has the right to put himself in charge of what's not an elected position. It would diminish his powers if we vote for it."
Vavrek said only 18 or 19 Connecticut towns have a paid economic development director, so the town leader does it in most cases.
Unger said in the city of Danbury, which is significantly bigger than Monroe is, the mayor was so involved in the process that they decided to eliminate the economic development director position.
"We are not Danbury," Kapoor said.
Town Councilman Frank Lieto, a Republican, asked Kapoor, "What evidence do you have that the first selectman is doing a sub-par job as economic development coordinator?"
Kapoor said he was not saying Vavrek was doing a sub-par job, just that it was too much responsibility to take on.
"You have no evidence he's doing a sub-par job, you just think it's too much work?" Lieto replied. "I take it you don't think he's doing a good job or you wouldn't want to put someone else in the position. Give me some support for your opinion."
Even if Vavrek were to appoint an unelected volunteer, Lieto said the person would still work under the office of the first selectman and have less experience than the first selectman.
"We did have an economic development coordinator ... and I believe the Town Council did not believe we were getting a good return on that investment," Lieto said.
Kapoor said, "I disagree with your first premise, that the volunteer would have less experience than the first selectman. A highly qualified person may want to volunteer."
Lieto said, "Don't we have the Economic Development Commission?"
Kapoor said if a major company showed interest in moving into Monroe, there could not be seven EDC members talking to them, rather there would have to be a point person — like an economic development coordinator.
Town Councilwoman Debra Dutches, a Republican, cautioned against adding the extra burden to the first selectman of finding a volunteer to appoint, then training that person during the busy budget season. She also recalled how Teri Rotella recently volunteered as economic development coordinator, then asked Vavrek if he would welcome it if someone that qualified came forward again.
"Ray Giovanni, the chamber president, is that person for me," Vavrek said. "He helps me. You can't get better than that."
During the second public comment session at the end of the council meeting, Schapiro said he will be "disappointed if the Town Council doesn't see the advantages this town can have with a full-time economic development person."
When a deal for a company like Victorinox-Swiss Army is inked, Schapiro said the town would recoup the money for the economic development coordinator's salary and benefits with the swipe of a pen.