By Katy Savage
Some members of the Rutland Board of Alderman criticized the Rutland Redevelopment Authority for not being proactive or collaborative enough at the board’s Oct. 3 meeting.
Alderman Thomas Franco made a motion to defund the Rutland Redevelopment Authority (RRA) and “use our taxpayers dollars to actually further economic development in very clear terms.”
Franco proposed the RRA essentially move forward without RRA Executive Director Brennan Duffy to focus on grant administration and “allocating resources for proactive economic development strategies with other entities.”
The board quickly tabled the motion but continued the discussion.
Alderman Chris Ettori called the RRA “broken” and said he’s been concerned for a decade about its “lack of collaboration and lack of active projects.”
Ettori called Duffy a “gatekeeper, not a facilitator,” explaining, “He has described himself as that.”
While Duffy was not present at the meeting, Mayor David Allaire said the discussion was “unfortunate.”
“I think it’s unfortunate to have this discussion without Brennan being here to defend himself,” Allaire said.
Allaire, who was elected mayor six years ago, said he’s seen different approaches to economic development.
“Economic development means different things to many different people,” he said.
Allaire and RRA leaders said Franco gave little notice prior to his motion. Allaire said he was informed of the motion 2 1/2 hours prior to the meeting and he would have prepared better, but Franco defended his motion.
“It’s truly alarming even after a two-hour heads up our top leadership cannot give us any idea of what economic development means for our city or what strategies are in place or what goals or objectives we have,” Franco said. “Taxpayers deserve to have real leadership in this space.”
Alderman Bill Gillam, Jr., who was part of starting the RRA in the 1980s, called the discussion a political attempt to sway votes for the impending November election. (Allaire’s mayorship is one of the contested seats, challenged by Alderman President Mike Doenges).
“I don’t think this should be a football for politics,” Gillam said. “I think this witch hunt we’re going after here is not the right way to do this.”
The board voted to move the discussion to the Board of Aldermen’s economic development committee.
Franco, who is the Board of Aldermen’s representative to the RRA, clarified during the meeting that he wasn’t attempting to single Duffy out.
“I’m truly disappointed this is seen as a witch hunt or attack on anyone or anything when this is really about the city’s best interests,” he said.
Duffy, who has been with the RRA for the past 11 years, said he watched the meeting on a live-stream from home.
“I was really kind of disappointed and surprised,” Duffy said in a phone interview after the meeting, explaining personnel discussions are usually reserved for executive sessions. “I feel like I’ve given my heart and soul to the redevelopment authority. I feel pretty unappreciated at the moment.”
Duffy is one of two employees at the Rutland Redevelopment Authority. The Board of Aldermen and RRA signed a five year-agreement of services in 2018, which is due for renewal in 2023. As part of the agreement, the Board of Aldermen contributes about $50,000 each quarter to the RRA’s annual budget of just under $500,000. The RRA also levies taxes and gives about $280,000 to the Downtown Rutland Partnership.
Duffy said the RRA intentionally takes a passive role in economic development.
“I’ve received very specific direction (from the RRA board), we want to be facilitating work with these other entities in our community,” Duffy said.
RRA chair Ed Clark said he was disappointed Franco didn’t discuss his concerns about the RRA prior to the meeting.
“I felt disparaged by what he said,” Clark said.
Clark, who received an email from Franco prior to the motion, questioned Franco’s intentions and said despite Franco’s role as being a liaison between the two boards, Franco has only attended a few RRA meetings.
Clark was hopeful the RRA and Board of Aldermen could reach an agreement.
“You need to evolve and change with the times,” Clark said. “I certainly would like to think we can do that with the group of people we have. I don’t know that the feeling is mutual.”