• Merger plan faces some challenges
     | August 24,2013

    The Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission has scheduled a public forum Sept. 10 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce in Berlin to discuss the following question: “Should CVRPC amend its bylaws and governing structure to accept the roles and responsibilities of the Central Vermont Economic Development Corp.?”

    This “final” public forum is intended to assist planning commission representatives (appointed by town select boards in central Vermont) in deciding how to vote Oct. 8, when the commission says it will vote on the question.

    For the past two years I have worked on a committee composed of CVRPC and CVEDC representatives to develop a plan for merging the two organizations. After hours of meetings, the committee developed a comprehensive recommendation, which can be found at www.centralvtplanning.org as “Final Report of Joint Consolidation.” (It will take awhile to download; the report is 30 pages long. The website also contains comments from some towns pro and con the merger; missing is reference to the town of Berlin’s support.)

    The committee, composed of five delegates from each organization, voted 9-1 in favor of merger. The specific proposal of the committee was that the two organizations vote in principle to merge but that the executive committees of the two groups then work out details for further approval by the directors of each group.

    I think this merger, if consummated as the committee recommended, would advance the health and welfare of central Vermont, lead to more job opportunities for our citizens, enhance the planning capabilities of the CVRPC, and protect our environmental and cultural assets. However, I am very concerned that the attitudes being expressed by the leadership of the CVRPC and some of its members toward this merger will foreclose the possibility of it being a success, even should the vote Oct. 8 be favorable. Here is an example of what I am talking about:

    As described above, the committee recommended a vote in principle in favor of merger. Under the bylaws proposed by the committee, the CVEDC would become a self-perpetuating committee of the CVRPC and would continue to be responsible for economic development efforts. The CVEDC would also get a minority vote on the CVRPC board. (The proposal calls for 23 CVRPC delegates, nine CVEDC delegates and three at-large seats.) Because the CVEDC would then dissolve itself, some of its current powers were added to the CVRPC’s statutory powers as expressed in its bylaws.

    From this background, without talking to the CVEDC or the committee, the CVRPC decided the vote should be about whether the CVRPC should accept the roles and responsibilities of the CVEDC. The notice implies that the CVEDC and the committee approved the question to be voted upon, which they did not. To me, the question also implies that CVEDC would cease to function and that the CVRPC would find itself burdened with the task of economic development. This does not seem like a motion made by one who wishes a fair vote on the work of the committee.

    Successful mergers, like marriages, depend on trust and faith and good will. The corporate world is full of mergers that look good on paper but which fail because of a lack of internal support.

    At a meeting of the CVEDC on Aug. 16, there was substantial debate whether to pull the plug on the merger in principle, for the reasons discussed above and also because, frankly, some CVEDC members are not convinced it will further the CVEDC’s mission. So that all CVEDC directors could weigh in on this important decision, the group decided to advance its September meeting to Sept. 4 to focus on this issue and respond to the CVRPC prior to its Sept. 10 forum.

    As mentioned, I continue to support the concept of merger. Most regional planning organizations in America do have economic development as part of their mission. Nevertheless, I do not want CVEDC to merge with an organization that wishes to dominate or dictate rather than partner with the CVEDC. These are the messages I hope the CVEDC considers and the CVRPC receives loud and clear at its public forum.

    Josh Fitzhugh, of Berlin, is director and former president of Central Vermont Economic Development Corp.

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