Barnstable Town Council President Eric Steinhilber has called for dissolving the Barnstable Economic Development Commission, effectively replacing it with a “Smart Hyannis” task force of local private industry representatives.
The first reading of the revocation of the group’s charter took place at the council’s Oct. 4 meeting. A second reading and potential vote are scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m.
The economic development commission initially formed as an advisory board in 1974. Alan Feltham, the group’s current chairman and a member since 2012, on Oct. 4 asked the council to make the right choice and preserve the commission.
“If we lose visible, volunteer commissions and committees, which are televised, it’s not going to be a good thing,” Feltham testified. “Transparency and democracy are two very threatened issues in our country.”
Earlier in the week, Elizabeth Jenkins, Barnstable’s Director of Planning and Development, said “understanding focus” is one of the problems with the town's volunteer committees. The other is lack of quorum. The economic development commission’s last four monthly meetings have been canceled because not enough members were present to vote.
According to Councilor Paul Hebert, citizen committees are important regardless of quorum.
“I support every opportunity for citizens to come out and speak in public,” Hebert said. “Participation (in local government) is critically important.”
It's a scenario akin to the restructuring of Barnstable's renewable energy and asset management committees over the summer, changes the Barnstable Appointment Committee implemented to streamline the number of town committees.
Jenkins said now is a great time to establish a “Smart Hyannis” task force to work with the Cape legislative delegation on securing state funding and bringing high-speed internet to downtown Hyannis.
Steinhilber said he and Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells would work together to establish the task force, focusing the town’s volunteer resources on specific priority areas. Those include establishing a better understanding of doing business in Barnstable, engaging various areas of business community, and measuring progress toward objectives.
"It's a presidential committee that will be determined by the president,” Steinhilber said. “There are certain industries that we're looking for representation from. New growth dollars, that's our No. 1 mantra.”
Councilor Paul Neary said he is astounded at the talent available in Barnstable.
"We need to look at the resources of the town, how they're being used, and where the strategic planning is headed," Neary said.
Neary and Councilor Debra Dagwan then publicly thanked Feltham for his many years of service to the town.