NARRAGANSETT – After its contentious dissolution in 2016, the town has reinstated a local economic development commission (EDC). The public body is a new board and new members will be appointed by the council upon the commission’s establishment.
“It was a very successful committee,” said council president pro tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno. “In 2016, that committee got abolished and I’m not really even sure why that committee was abolished. They did some great work in the town — signage, they were responsible for the town’s banner program.”
“For the economic development in the town, [this commission] would be paying attention to the planning issues, they would be paying attention to the town issues and the chamber would be tied into it.”
The new EDC would serve in an advisory capacity to both the town council and planning board. It would further consist of seven members, including one member of the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce and town council. The board, said councilors, would work in conjunction with the chamber for the economic benefit of the town at large.
“There’s a lot of support to work together with the chamber to help the local economy,” said Cicilline Buonanno. “I think this is an opportunity to help businesses move forward in the Town of Narragansett.”
In 2016, the town council at the time decided to dissolve the EDC, which had existed since 2008, in a 3-2 vote, with then-town council president Matthew Mannix noting there had been nine resignations from the group within the last four years.
“Today’s EDC consists of passionate individuals who are advocating for existing businesses in the town,” read previous town councilor Jill Lawler’s summary of the 2016 motion to dissolve the EDC. “This is the fatal flaw of the committee. Economic development is in the interest of the town — and if we are trying to develop a comprehensive strategy, existing businesses may or may not be prioritized for future growth. Just like a company that has a mature product line — Narragansett needs to find new products to grow. Advocating for local businesses is indeed a valid and noble cause. That function belongs in the chamber of commerce — not the EDC.”
At a town council meeting Monday night where the vote to reinstate the public body occurred, members of the public raised issues with the prior iteration of the commission.
“I’m surprised to hear Susan say it was success because I thought it was an embarrassment and a disaster,” said resident Harry Schofield, who served on the previous EDC before resigning. “The reason for that is because, although it started out with the best of intentions and a lot of us were enthusiastic for the progress that could be made, it devolved into a political football. It became a committee devoted to the agenda of a couple of people who ran it and controlled it for their own agenda and their own aggrandizement.”
Schofield went on to say the prior iteration of the committee lacked the leadership, expertise and public spiritedness to address local economic needs, and championed an ad-hoc committee, one that would work temporarily on a specific task and then be dissolved, in its stead.
Resident Steve Ferrandi agreed with Schofield.
“I see a lot of advising to the planning board,” he said. “I think it just kind of becomes whoever’s in the majority is going to push what they want on the committee.”
Resident Win Hames said he agreed the committee should be reinstated, adding that he agreed with the stated flaws of the previous committee, and advocated for defining the mission of the commission before its establishment.
“It did have some issues previously,” said Murray. “I think a solid mission statement is in order, but I’m on board with this.”
Councilor Ewa Dzwierzynski agreed.
“I think having the right individuals on it will make a world of difference,” she said.
Councilor Deb Kopech said she had researched other EDCs in the state in order to draft an effective mission statement in the future.
Ultimately, the motion was approved unanimously.