Proposed redevelopment bill incites war of words between Brunswick legislator, town councilors

Posted May 11, 2013, at 6:32 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2013, at 10:50 a.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A bill sponsored by freshman Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, has fiercely divided Brunswick’s legislative delegation and town officials, further inflaming years of conflict over redevelopment of the former Navy base.

Daughtry’s bill would would add two seats to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, one to be appointed by the Brunswick Town Council and one to be appointed by the Topsham Board of Selectmen.

She said Saturday that she sponsored the bill after hearing from constituents that they weren’t aware of redevelopment activity at Brunswick Landing. She also wants to ensure that the two communities most directly affected by the closure have direct representation on the board.

But Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said Saturday that he would speak against the bill during a public hearing Monday because “it would have a negative impact on the redevelopment of the base.”

He also said Brunswick officials “have been trying to twist my arm and manhandle me” to get him to co-sponsor the bill, and he said he’s been told that town officials “have threatened not to go along with [a proposed tax break]” for the redevelopment authority if he didn’t sign on to the bill.

Gerzofsky and the Brunswick Town Council have sparred for years over several pieces of legislation — some still pending — regarding base redevelopment. Among them, they’ve argued about whether Town Manager Gary Brown could continue to serve on the MRRA board.

The statute creating the redevelopment authority prohibits public officials from serving on the board. The council argued that Brown is eligible since he is not an elected official. But then-Gov. John Baldacci did not renominate Brown to the board because he works for a public body.

In 2011, Gerzofsky sponsored — unsuccessfully — legislation that would have prevented employees of elected officials from serving.

Still, earlier this year, Gov. Paul LePage also omitted Brown from his list of nominees, instead nominating attorney John Moncure and former Downeast Energy president John Peters.

Gerzofsky said the MRRA board should be composed of economic development and other business professionals “who understand how to attract businesses to come in and occupy these buildings and grow a tax base to help the whole region.”

Five of the board’s members currently live in Brunswick, Gerzofsky pointed out, and he said Brunswick had the opportunity to nominate Finance Director John Eldridge, as Topsham nominated its economic development director, John Shattuck, who sits on the board currently — but chose not to, instead only submitting Brown’s name as a nominee.

Brunswick Town Councilor Ben Tucker said Saturday that he questions why Gerzofsky “is threatening to block town appointments to the MRRA board.” Tucker said the current board members are highly qualified and the council is happy several are from Brunswick, “but the point of [Daughtry’s] bill is to ensure the host communities of Brunswick and Topsham are able to directly appoint someone that they choose … it will increase trust and cooperation between MRRA and the town. We’re not at all trying to control the board — it just gives us a seat at the table.”

“Ben Tucker has never been to Augusta to fight for a bond for MRRA or the [community] college,” Gerzofsky said Saturday. “He was never a part of bringing anything to the base, nor anywhere else in Brunswick. If he wants to be critical about people having a different opinion and … [who] don’t agree with his narrow view of things, maybe he should take a class at SMCC in civics.”

Tucker responded that Gerzofsky “is out of touch with this community … we’re very disappointed and surprised that he is so hostile and trying to bully and block the people in the communities of Brunswick and Topsham.

But Gerzofsky said he’s had enough of “very tough” tactics to force him to co-sponsor the bill. He said Town Councilor John Richardson, among others, has “used very tough means to try to force people to co-sponsor a bill they have no faith in and that would go absolutely to the opposite of their constituents’ wants, needs and desires.”

Richardson said Saturday that the relationship between MRRA and the town is “quite strong,” and added, “It’s unfortunate these comments are potentially harming that relationship. Such comments have no place in a relationship that’s moving forward.”

Tucker and Richardson said a poll conducted by Critical Insights of Portland — the results of which will be released during Monday’s public hearing — shows that 76 percent of Brunswick residents polled support a “direct appointment” of MRRA board members from the two towns. He added that, given the financial investment Brunswick is making in Brunswick Landing, including tax increment financing and other sources, “I have a fiduciary obligation as an elected official on the town council to support redevelopment and to guarantee that the monies are wisely spent in that effort.”

Daughtry said LD 1476 is “an attempt to start a dialogue, and to get all the different players to sit down and talk … I’m trying to help the process and my district” create high-paying jobs, and not add to any tension.

“If there is tension, I’ll be honest, I’m going to stay above it,” she said. “I’m hoping everyone will come to the hearing with a mature, professional attitude.”

The Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development will hold a public hearing on LD 1476, An Act To Protect Local Input in Economic Development and Redevelopment Efforts, at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Room 208 of the Cross Building in Augusta.

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