Claremont officials say City Council vote on development agency won’t disrupt operations

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 12-26-2023 11:22 AM

Modified: 12-27-2023 7:31 AM


CLAREMONT — The Claremont Development Authority’s work will not be disrupted or delayed by the City Council’s recent vote to suspend the CDA earlier this month, CDA Vice Chairman Andy LaFreniere and Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill said Friday.

“The revenues are coming in, the bills are getting paid, everything is continuing on,” Merrill said, who serves as the administrator of the CDA, per its bylaws. “We’ve got some loans in process and as far as future business, that will be on the plate when we get them back together.”

LaFreniere said there are several projects in motion and they are not in jeopardy.

“The city manager assured us there will not be any disruption,” LaFreniere said. “That was our biggest concern and that has been addressed.”

Mayor Dale Girard and out-going City Councilor Jonathan Stone, who moved at the Dec. 13 council meeting to suspend the CDA, both said they hope the suspension, approved in a 6-2 vote by the council, does not drag on for months.

“I have been on the phone with the city manager to be sure he has something coming back to the council on the 10th (of January) to get them back in business,” Girard said.

Stone, who lost his re-election bid in November, said recently that his goal in suspending the CDA was to ensure the CDA’s bylaws, adopted in 2003, are in compliance and up to date, not to abruptly end the organization’s work.

“This is more of a housekeeping thing so we don’t go off the rails with the CDA,” Stone said. “We need a CDA. My purpose is not to get rid of it but to get it revamped and into compliance.”

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The CDA is a volunteer group whose stated purpose is “to acquire, develop, expand, lease or sell commercial property to expand job opportunities and the city tax base.” Previously referred to as the Industrial Development Authority, created by the council in 1989, the name was changed to the Claremont Development Authority and new bylaws were adopted in 2003. Its activities are governed by state law and city ordinances.

The authority’s current budget is about $100,000, but the CDA has administered close to $1.5 million in grants this year and has $200,000 available for a microloan program to support small businesses in the downtown area with short-term, low-interest financing, Merrill said.

CDA member Keith Raymond said they can apply for grants and loans to help existing businesses and start others. One recent example was a grant to remove asbestos from the old Pleasant Restaurant where phase one renovations are nearing completion for a new performing arts center.

“The CDA can get grants the city can’t,” Raymond said.

Stone, whose term ends on Sunday, also said his motion to suspend the CDA should not have come as a complete surprise to councilors or CDA members because there have been discussions in the past about the issues he wants to address. One change Stone supports is having a sitting councilor on the CDA, which LaFreniere said they would not object to.

“The CDA has failed to change its bylaws to allow a councilor to serve on the board,” Stone said at the Dec. 13 meeting.

Stone has also complained that the council does not approve appointments to the CDA like it does with other boards and commissions but instead is asked to approve members sent to the council that have been approved by the CDA board. He wants the appointment mechanism looked into.

The Dec. 13 motion stated that the city manager would do a thorough investigation of CDA’s “purpose, structure and management” and develop a report with recommendations to address needs to update and amend the organization’s bylaws.

LaFreniere said the CDA was not aware of any discrepancies between the bylaws and city ordinances.

“We thought there were more concerns with the goals of the council and needs of the city,” Lafreniere said. “We had discussed concerns that had been percolating about the need for the CDA to reexamine its future projects to be sure they were in alignment with city needs. That had been brought to the attention of the board.”

LaFreniere said the CDA recently discussed inviting the council to a meeting so councilors could voice their opinions.

“We anticipated working collaboratively toward any adjustments that needed to be addressed, but the council decided it wanted to go in a different direction,” LaFreniere said.

On the night of the vote, only Councilor Nick Koloski objected, not to Stone’s stated goals but to the process because there was no warning that Stone was going to move to suspend the CDA.

“I still don’t agree with the process,” Koloski said, pointing out that councilor Andrew O’Hearne regularly objects to discussing matters not in the council packet. “Do I agree we need to look into the matter? Absolutely. “I have a problem because it was not brought up at a previous meeting under future agenda items.”

Koloski questioned Stone’s authority to bring something to the city manager without council approval first. But Stone said he only handed his motion to Manale, who decided on his own to have legal counsel review it.

“He didn’t feel comfortable with the motion and wanted to be sure it was legal to do it this way,” Stone said this week.

O’Hearne, Assistant Mayor Deb Matteau, Mayor Girard and councilors Spencer Batchelder and William Limoges did not explain their support of Stone’s motion prior to the vote.

Girard said Stone’s recommendation was not without precedent, as the council last year voted to disband both the Finance Committee and Energy Advisory Committee without prior warning.

Messages left for Manale were not returned.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com