by Ron Merkin
Which of two competing development firms should the city of Montpelier choose as a partner to collaborate on plans for the One Taylor Street bus terminal construction project? Readers of my last column may have assumed that the nearly two-and-a-half-hour discussion resulting in a vote for Redstone during the March 26 City Council meeting had put an end to deliberation about this question.
It didn’t. The first person to speak when members of the public were invited to raise concerns at the beginning of the April 9 meeting was Donald Wells, president of DEW Properties, the firm that lost the bid. His remarks launched renewed discussion—this time approximately for one hour, instead of two and a half hours.
Urging the council to rescind their vote and take another one, Wells said the vote during the council’s last session was keeping him awake at night. His DEW firm had addressed all of the questions asked in the city’s RFP (request for a proposal), he asserted. “Eighty percent of our customers are repeats,” he added, and also said that the selection process determining who would be members of the citizens’ advisory committee that recommended Redstone was flawed.
Before speaking, Wells gave council members copies of a letter he’d sent in advance to City Manager Bill Fraser. Among other complaints, the letter contended that Councilwoman Jessica Walsh’s participation as the City Council liaison to the citizens’ advisory committee had compromised her impartiality when voting for Redstone. Seeming to imply that her identification with citizen members of the committee influenced her more than an objective comparison of the two firms’ merits, he wrote, “She sought to ensure the Committee’s choice was selected.”
He implied in another paragraph that if Tom Golonka’s family connections with Capital Plaza hotel owners had not influenced him to recuse himself from voting, that DEW Properties instead of Redstone might have been selected. Wells wrote: “It is our understanding that he (Golonka) received pressure from the city to avoid an ‘appearance’ of conflict. But there was no conflict…he would not have received any direct or indirect benefit from selecting one developer over the other.”
Rescinding a vote so city councilors can re-vote requires that at least one member who voted with the majority (in this case for Redstone) make a motion for reconsideration. Among that majority, Jessica Walsh was absent during the April 9 meeting. Anne Watson and Justin Turcotte decided to stick by their votes despite urging from Donna Bate, who voted for DEW, that a re-vote would establish a better beginning regardless of which development firm won. Theirry Guerlain also voted for DEW. His mention that, like DEW’s president, he’d lost sleep because of the process of deliberation and its outcome swayed no one. So assuming another more successful strategy is not devised, all that debating didn’t change Redstone as the city’s partner.
A topic Vermonters never tire of discussing occupied most of the rest of the April 9 meeting. Potholes and crack ceilings (those lines on street surfaces that look like alligators) are especially popular conversation pieces during spring as Public Works Department grant proposal writers, awaiting results to their appeals for state funding, start worrying about how much summertime repair can be accomplished using city funds alone.
During a presentation regarding this issue, a representative from public works pointed out that throughout Vermont there’s a lot of competition for state money. Montpelier funds can finance repairs on Barre Street but not Main Street this year. In fact, temporary repair in general can be done with city funds, but reconstruction—a more permanent solution—needs state financing (in other words, drivers: write to your representatives!)
Amidst this discussion primarily about downtown street repair, Councilman Guerlain mentioned that someone he knows who wants to sell his home in an upscale Montpelier neighborhood has not been successful because potential buyers have been discouraged by the condition of the small out of the way road leading to his house. Upper middle income residents in remote areas pay taxes like everyone else, and they shouldn’t be forgotten during discussions about road repair, said Guerlain.