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Another Year, Another Economic Development Debate

Town Councilman Nick Kapoor believes the first selectman's handling the responsibilities of economic development coordinator puts too much on his plate.

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.

jim laguardia January 27, 2013 at 03:48 PM
So this seems to be a typical D vs R debate until you step back and think, Hmmmm all of the R's basically want him to do BOTH jobs and only get paid for one, with friends like that who needs enemies??
Sean Carter January 27, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Horrible idea to have 1st Selectman in charge of economic development. Even worse though is having a part time, non paid volunteer. Either way the Town of Monroe is losing. Fund the position or have the CEO of the Town in charge that's the only way.
Alex January 28, 2013 at 02:22 AM
What did the previous coordinator do that made the council determine that the position was not worth the investment? Varvek has a point if only 19 towns out of 169 have an economic coordinator. Do those 19 towns have greater economic growth than the other towns that do not have a coordinator? Honestly, if you want to attract large companies to Monroe, we need a lower property tax than our surrounding towns. Shelton has a lower property tax than Milford. Bic Corporation didn't seem to mind moving it's HQ from Bic Drive in Milford when the opportunity arrived.
Schap January 28, 2013 at 04:17 AM
Why does everyone believe what is written in patch when Mr. Vavrek is quoted? How many towns "do" actually have EDC coordinators or people within the town government that are assigned to that area. The last two coordinators from Monroe are now the grant writer for Bridgeport, bringing plenty of monies to that City, and the other is running for Mayor of Norwalk. Why have we lost so many good people from this town hall in the past four years? The real reason the last coordinator was let go, I believe has to do more with managing a staff position person then getting a return on investment. The last person was hired full time and choose not to have benefits like health care because his wife had the coverage which saved the town plenty. Then the position was made part-time. Then is was brought back to full time time in the next budget, but then reduced to part-time again.Now what does that tell the person in that position. That does not bold well for an outstanding employee when you don't know if your job will be there from day to day. I believe a person in that position that is going to work with commercial real estate brokers, developers and the leaders of business could bring added Economic Development to Monroe. There is nobody that is fighting for economic development in this administration on a daily basis. The position of EDC needs to be put in the budget, managed and we will have results if it is supported by the administrators of this town. outstanding
captrips January 28, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Perhaps someone could answer this question for me. Why would it make sense to fund an economic development position in a town where there is insufficient infrastructure to support REAL economic development? I'm not talking about nail salons, pizza restaurants and dry cleaners. Rather, white collar office development that pays far more in taxes than they consume in town services. Isn't the real problem our inability to cure the shortsightedness of past Monroe leadership (and I use that term loosely) in not making sewers a reality at least along Rt. 111 or Rt. 25?
Schap January 28, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Sewers are definitely the biggest drawback when real estate developers ask questions, but there are other area's that could be developed. Wouldn't you like to see more development where Swiss Army is or where Waterview is, or maybe an over 55 development on the Stevenson property? Someone has to go out and get the developers to investigate the positive attributes of Monroe. The administration puts money in the budget every year to do a sewer study, but we never see any result. There was $20,000 in the last budget, but they didn't do a study.(Maybe the legal department needed more funds).I believe more money was put in this years budget, but haven't heard a peep about it. We should at least understand what can and can not happen when we discuss ecomomic growth during the first selectman campaign, since that is the only time we hear anything about ecomonic development. We did fund the position and they were active in seeing Swiss Army and Waterview come to town. I am sure the tax bill for those two properties are positives for Monroe.
captrips January 28, 2013 at 06:58 PM
@Schap-All good points and I agree. However, I'd suggest we get our act together with respect to the feasibility of sewers. Either continue to have the First Selectman act as the Economic Development Director as part of his responsibilities or determine another path where an existing town employee with the requisite credentials performs the ECD duties. My point is, that I'm not sure that as the town is currently constituted, we warrant creating a paid ECD role until we're in a position to drive real commercial development. As for an over 55 community, I'm pretty sure that one of Greg Norman's companies attempted to construct an over 55 golf community near Pepper Street that went nowhere. I'm not sure if a paid-ECD brought this as an option.

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