Editorial: Fast-tracked out of $100,000

On May 20, when the governor, House Speaker Shap Smith and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger awarded the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce $100,000 to strengthen economic ties with Quebec, little did they know that “fast-tracking” something would prove so controversial.
That’s what happens when the fast-tracing process also avoids the normal legislative requirements of transparency. Mistakes are made and everyone is put in an awkward position.
Those chambers and regional development corporations not included in the largesse have asked why they were not informed or included, which ahs caused legislators involved in the process to defend what they can’t defend.
Nothing in the legislation specifies that the money was to go to the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.
When the story broke about the money going solely to the Chittenden County Chamber, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development quickly backpedaled saying the money was not intended just for the single chamber, but for economic development groups statewide.
That would make sense, particularly because several northern counties work closely with Quebec, not just Chittenden County.
The story has now become one of process. Rep. Bill Botzow, chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, and Sen. Kevin Mullin, chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs were prompted to write a letter explaining the legislative intent.
It was sent June 17.
It’s an interesting letter: It reads: “Our understanding from testimony presented to the Conference Committee on S. 138 is that the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber is currently pursuing business relationships with Quebec-based partners and that the Agency intends to use the funding in S. 138 to award a grant to LCRCC to expand its efforts.”
That doesn’t sound terribly inclusive, does it?
The letter is important in that without it the agency would be required to go through the standard RFP process to award the bid for the $100,000 contract. With it, it doesn’t. The letter establishes specific intent.
Give the LCRCC credit. Its director, Tom Torti, knows the players and the process better than almost anyone else in the state. He had a need, and he played the system well enough to secure the funding. He was brilliant.
It doesn’t make those who were played look very good. But he won. He has the check. He’s made the hire. Game over.
Still, it’s a lesson for legislators; particularly those outside Chittenden County. How likely is it, for example, that Tim Smith, executive director of Franklin County’s regional economic development corporation, or Robin Scheu, executive director of Addison County’s regional economic development corporation, could slip a $100,000 funding request through the legislative process without anyone else knowing?
Not very. Did those serving on the House and Senate commerce committees know about it? Bet they did not.
Fast-tracking something doesn’t invite a lot of collaboration. It reflects speed and power, which minimizes the potential for meddling. It’s how you get things done in Montpelier.
But is that how Vermonters want Montpelier to operate? When the Legislature convenes in January, it would be worth a minute or two to reflect on just how all this happened and the lessons to be learned.
If this is going to be the way things work, then we need to step up our game. If it’s not going to be the ways things work, then what happened needs to be recognized as a mistake. It needs to be acknowledged that there is some value in being open with the taxpayers’ money and how it is being spent.
Oh, and not to invite the cynics to lend their two-cents, but what are the odds that the person hired also speaks French, the official language of Quebec?
Here’s five bucks that says no.
Game on.
Emerson Lynn/St. Albans Messenger

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