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Monday, September 15, 2014

Economic Development Team Goes 15 Rounds

By Shari Phiel
Berthoud Recorder

Following the Berthoud Economic Resource Team’s regular monthly meeting on March 9, a sub-committee, formed by volunteers from the larger group met on Monday, March 11 to discuss the job description requirements for an economic development consultant.

The first item on the agenda was to review “what went wrong” with previous economic development consultant Stephanie Salazar, the Lakewood
consultant hired in October 2008 to provide guidance and assistance to the team. Based on comments from the subcommittee members, along with Town Trustees John Bauer and Dick Shepard, also present for the meeting, everyone was pleased with the work Salazar had performed.

“I had no issue with the work that was done,” stated Town Administrator Jim White. He went on to add, “My concerns were with work that wasn’t done,” which included information and reports previously requested as far back as December 2008. White agreed that Salazar brought a lot of energy and motivation to the group and wanted to keep that momentum going.

White additionally noted that budgetary constraints had to be considered. Stating that at Salazar’s monthly rate of $5,200, retaining her services for the entire year was beyond the reach of the 2009 economic development budget of $45,000. Of that amount $5,000 was already allocated to other activities such as dues and events, $10,400 was paid to Salazar for January and February services, leaving $30,000 remaining. A contract for $3,000 per month for 10 months with a reduced scope of services and hours was offered, but Salazar did not accept.

“If you knew the board allocated $45,000, minus the things you knew you had to spend, why didn’t you just throw that out on the table to her at her rate for as long as you had it and worry about it later, like Scarlett O’Hara — ‘I’ll worry about that tomorrow’?” asked BERT chair Becky Justice-Hemmann.

White responded, “My job is to be frugal and careful with the Town’s public funds, not to just wish for more money that we don’t have.”

Following White’s attempts to work out a contract agreement with Salazar, the Town Board decided at a Feb. 3 board meeting to do their best to come up with the extra funds needed.

In a phone conversation with Salazar on Tuesday, March 17, she noted this was about the same time she stepped back from discussions to allow the Board to work on White’s contract renewal. When asked if she would consider continuing her work with Berthoud, she said she would although a new contract with a revised scope of services would have to be drawn up. Salazar also noted that although she is working on other economic development contracts, specifically the Town of Eaton and the Colfax Business Improvement district, “I have time to take on more clients.”

Another item of discussion centered around what information the consultant would be required to provide, such as names of contacts, discussions held, phone calls, etc. and how to best compile that information into a usable format. Some of those present at the meeting felt part of this kind of information may fall under the category of intellectual property and therefore would be proprietary. Others felt this information would be something commonly provided when working with consultants. During the discussions, White stated he would look further into the issue.
   
“I want to make sure it is very clear we’re not only giving the economic development consultant very clear direction as to what we’re expecting, but also that we have that opportunity for the right check and balances,” stated Trustee Bauer.

Echoing the sentiments of many in the room, BERT member Jim Birdsall said, “I can’t believe how far we have fallen in such a short period of time. We had enthusiasm, we had excitement, and now we have frustration and anger. I’m beside myself that she (Salazar) is not here.” He then added, “I think it’s a disaster that she’s not here, and I think we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Much of the frustration and anger was directed at White, and the political relationship between the town administrator and the economic development coordinator.
   
“We feel like we haven’t been given all the facts,” said Hemmann. She added that because White hired an interim consultant without allowing BERT to participate in the hiring process, “We feel like you’ve betrayed us,” noting he would “have been real wise to wait a week.”

Berthoud resident and business owner Larry Bebo also told White that if he were him, he would be “concerned that this group of people are really angry.”

Concerns were also expressed that there appeared to be a conflict of interest for White’s choice of interim consultant Fred Burmont because Burmont currently serves as mayor pro tem for the Town of Evans.

Jim Birdsall stated, “I think it’s critical that this position, the future position, is hired by a committee of people who understand what they’re doing. I personally don’t know if our administrator is qualified to pick a good, or an average, or a bad economic development consultant.”

The subcommittee passed a motion to request the Town Board allow the BERT committee to be included in the hiring process along with using the BERT economic development job description with input from Town staff and the board included to fill that position.

In a phone interview prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, which he was unable to attend, Trustee Jeff Hindman echoed many of the same sentiments expressed at the subcommittee meeting. He also feels the group will have to start over, that the committee had accomplished more under Salazar’s direction in the past five month than in the last seven to eight years by the Town Board. Hindman also would like the board to reconsider renewing Administrator White’s contract for another year, suggesting instead that it is time for a change.

Not surprisingly, a rather lengthy discussion ensued at Tuesday’s board meeting. Mayor Tom Patterson reported having lunch with Burmont earlier in the day and wanted to clarify a couple of items.

“There is no contract. And this individual is quite comfortable with there being no contract” he stated. Patterson then added “This person feels … that if he cannot be of help to us, he doesn’t want to be here.”

The mayor also noted that due to nature of Burmont’s work as a professional CPA, he is experienced in working with confidential matters, which if violated, could have resulted in losing his license. He noted Burmont does not have a “direct working relationship with the person hired as their economic development director.”

Patterson did note Burmont would bring an entirely different set of skills to the table than those of Stephanie Salazar. “At this point, I’m thinking that we can learn something from everyone.”

Another request that came out of the subcommittee meeting was to change the existing reporting structure which was submitted to the Town Board on Tuesday. Mar. 17. The request asked that the economic development consultant report directly to the Town Board rather than the Town administrator. At the Tuesday board meeting, Town Attorney Bruce Fickel cautioned the board members abou
t moving in that direction due to liability concerns. The board did not approve the request but will continue to monitor the situation.

When opened to public comment, many of the same individuals from the previous night’s meeting expressed the same concerns and issues. Absent from the previous meeting was Don Dana of the Berthoud Area Chamber of Commerce, who suggested that BERT should continue to perform as advisory committee. Dana also thought having the economic development coordinator report directly to the board would slow the speed of business.

Ultimately, two motions were passed, both unanimously. The first directs Administrator White to work with the BERT subcommittee to create, through consensus, a job description and to hold off on contracting with anyone as economic development director.

The other motion passed would allow the BERT committee in its entirety to have the discretion to bring someone in on a non-contract basis as needed to work with the group and the Town administrator. That individual would be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement and a confidentiality agreement.      

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