SWANTON TOWN — About half the audience at Tuesday’s town selectboard meeting came for the economic development coordinator.
More than a half-dozen community members showed up urging the selectboard to renew the coordinator position when Elisabeth Nance’s contract expires on Jan. 1, 2020.
Nance is the community’s first economic development coordinator. She’s served in that position since May 2017.
Although Nance’s work benefits the community as a whole, the economic development coordinator reports the town selectboard.
Dan Billado, the selectboard’s chair, repeatedly stressed Tuesday night that the board does support both the position and Nance’s work in it.
“The bottom line is we’re looking out for the taxpayers,” Billado said, several times.
He characterized Nance as “very professional,” said she “knows all her resources” and “does extremely well at what she does.”
Billado said the board reviewing the position ahead of the expiration of Nance’s contract is just necessary procedure.
He reminded those in attendance of the selectboard’s careful process in creating and testing the position, how it began as a six-month pilot program, which Billado said the board decided “wasn’t fair.”
The board then expanded the position for one year, and then for another, which expires Jan. 1.
Billado said the previous incarnation of the selectboard decided “if we couldn’t get a return on investment … not necessarily Elisabeth goes away, but the position would go away. We’re not there yet.”
Billado told the audience he couldn’t reveal much of the board’s evaluation process, because, as a personnel issue, those discussions are limited to executive sessions.
The seven audience members who spoke on Nance’s behalf seemed to have already evaluated her, not just positively but as a crucial asset to the community.
Christine Sweeney came before the board this May in a group of Maquam Shore Road residents. They asked the town government to apply for grantfunding to study safer traffic options on that road.
The board carried a motion to do so, and Nance prepared the application as one of three she submitted for the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Bike and Pedestrian Program. VTrans approved all three, totaling more than an incredible $700,000 in grant funding for Swanton.
Sweeney spoke on Nance’s behalf Tuesday night, brandishing Nance’s resume as economic development coordinator — a three-page document, single-spaced, that Sweeney said is “incredibly impressive.”
“I just think she’s a really valuable asset to this community,” Sweeney told the board.
The town selectpersons voted, 3-2, to make the economic development coordinator position part-time, rather than full-time, at its creation.
Regardless, Sweeney said given the list of Nance’s accomplishments in that position, “It’s almost like a full-time job.”
Which is exactly what Adam Paxman, one of Swanton’s village trustees, said it should be.
Paxman said he feels the position is bringing Swanton not just into the 21st century, but even “into the twenty-second century.”
“This position is vital to the future of Swanton,” Paxman said.
Neal Speer, Swanton’s village president, told the board, “Progress is refreshing. Elisabeth has definitely convinced us that we can progress.”
Speer said Nance’s work frees up time David Jescavage, the town administrator, and Reg Beliveau Jr., the village manager, can now devote to other municipal priorities.
Beliveau supported that assertion.
“This position is worth a lot to the village as well,” he said.
Beliveau said the position is evidence of the good working relationship between the village and town governments for their mutual benefit — prompting selectperson Joel Clark to chime in, with a smile, and recite an increasingly common slogan: “One Swanton.”
That’s an idea driven by the Swanton Enhancement Project — the idea that what benefits Swanton benefits the community as a whole, regardless of official town and village boundaries.
The economic development coordinator position actually began as an SEP proposal.
Sandy Kilburn was a founding member of the SEP. She told the selectboard Tuesday that when the idea for the SEP began, in her living room, the concept of an economic development coordinator was key.
Kilburn went further to stress that Nance should continue as the economic development coordinator. Kilburn said Nance “exceeded our hopes.”
“She’s made great connections and relationships,” Kilburn said.
Ron Kilburn said it’s time to realize the benefits of the board’s investment in the position, a thought on which Judy Paxman expanded, the Swanton Arts Council’s executive director.
Judy warned the board that the position’s benefits often won’t be as obvious as an immediately straight dollar-to-dollar return on investment.
Judy also told the board she “can’t say enough” about Nance’s benefit to the arts council, specifically the number of grant opportunities Nance passes along.
Judy said the arts council wouldn’t be where it is without Nance’s work.
Billado closed the discussion by reiterating the board’s support for Nance and the position.
“She’s done a great job,” he said. “She knows it. We know it.”
Billado said the board has to solidify future directions for the position, but he also said he thinks the board already has a concrete mission and vision for the position and that value will come.
He also showed his appreciation for those who spoke.
“I love it when the room’s full like this,” Billado said.
“Gets hot quick, though, don’t it?” Beliveau quipped, and everyone joined in a laugh of agreement.