In a move that seemed to surprise no one in attendance, the Community and Economic Development Committee made a move to quarter the hours of economic development consultant Sue Walsh, and shift her duties to work exclusively with the Promotions Committee.
Walsh resigned before the board could vote on such a motion.
The CED first held an executive session, which Walsh opted not to attend, at the start of its October 29 meeting. By state statute, executive sessions on personnel matters are open to the individual being discussed but closed to the public.
“Using a consultant may or may not be in the best use of our taxpayers’ money,” said CED Chairman Rick Armstrong after the executive session. He credited Walsh with “clearly rais[ing] the issue for us,” and said the CED needed flexibility to “reprogram” consultant funds towards marketing and technology incubator plans.
Armstrong then placed a motion before the committee that “the CED work to develop consultant services such that our present consultant [work] up to five hours a week directly for the [CED] Promotions Committee. The Promotions Committee is charged with developing a work plan to move that ahead.”
Before the vote could be held, Walsh handed in her letter of resignation, effective November 15.
“It is increasingly clear to me that it is unlikely that I will ever get anything of substance accomplished in Castine under the current circumstances,” she wrote. “In my opinion, you have yet to form [a] leadership team.”
Despite having Walsh’s resignation on the table, the board voted unanimously to pass the motion as stated.
Walsh had made her frustration with the CED clear early in October, citing that taxpayer money slated for the consultant position was being wasted by the inability of the committee to decide on projects.
Some CED members had countered that Walsh provided less-than-detailed reports and invoices and did not fully carry out their requests. Others had said the CED shouldn’t micromanage a consultant and Walsh did perform assigned tasks.
“Her candidness about her frustration in doing the best with the taxpayers’ money…clearly raised that issue for us,” said Armstrong before the October 29 board vote. “Our discussion elevated far beyond personalities and people.”
Voters approved spending $30,000 for a part-time economic development consultant at the June 1 town meeting. This was the second year they funded economic development in Castine. Walsh was paid $35 per hour, reporting first to selectmen and then, after the CED was formed in April, to the committee.
As the meeting progressed, CED members asked Walsh to continue to work on the Castinopoly game currently under development, to complete arrangements for a Wi-Fi installation at the town dock and to field calls on a request to five consulting companies for marketing proposals.
Walsh agreed to continue on those projects until her resignation takes effect November 15.
The Promotions Committee is in the midst of planning Light Up Castine events, as well as the Castinopoly game. “We have been treading water for too long,” said Chairman Sue Macdonald. “We either have to start swimming or we’re going to sink.”
Without an economic development consultant, calls to the town office have no one to be routed to, said Town Clerk Susan Macomber. She then asked the committee for “a clear definition of what’s going on here.”
“[Financial Officer Karen Motycka and I] don’t have any time or room on our plate to fill in the gap,” she said.
“[Tell callers to] shoot us an email,” said member Jane Irving.
After the meeting, Motycka said callers with questions on economic development would be directed to Armstrong’s personal email address.
CED meets Friday, November 15, 8:30 a.m., Emerson Hall