BRUNSWICK — The town’s chief executive won’t be among those serving on the agency overseeing the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Gov. John Baldacci on Thursday announced nominations to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. Despite endorsements from the Town Council and the president of Bowdoin College, Gary Brown, the Town Manager, was not among Baldacci’s five nominations.
Brown, who currently serves on the MRRA board, was appointed when he was the town’s assistant manager. According to David Farmer, Baldacci’s deputy chief of staff, Brown wasn’t reappointed due to concerns about conflicts between Brown’s capacity as an employee of the Town Council.
The state statue governing MRRA prohibits politicians from serving on its board of trustees. Farmer said that although Brown isn’t an elected official, he serves an elected legislative body.
“Gary Brown did an excellent job,” Farmer said. “We have no qualms with his performance.”
“The governor was concerned that although his appointment may not violate the letter of the law, it certainly wasn’t in the spirit of the law,” Farmer added.
The announcement follows months of public and behind-the-scenes jockeying for and against Brown’s reappointment.
The Town Council lobbied publicly on Brown’s behalf, arguing that he was a direct link to the agency implementing the base reuse plan.
Brown, who openly coveted the job, said he was disappointed with the governor’s decision, but “respected that it wasn’t” his “decision to make”.
Town Council Vice Chairman Benet Pols was more critical of Brown’s exclusion. Pols said he was pleased to see several Brunswick residents receive nominations, but that “the larger disappointment for me is the lack of support shown by the local legislative delegation on the issue.”
In an e-mail sent Thursday, Pols wrote that recent letters to the editor from Rep. Peter Kent, D-Brunswick, and Rep. David Webster, D-Woolwich, arguing against the appointment of town executives “seemed more like rationalization for a decision already made than a thoughtful analysis of what is best for the community.”
Pols questioned why Brunswick’s delegation hadn’t publicly weighed in.
Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, is among those Baldacci consulted before announcing his appointments. Gerzofsky admitted Thursday that he did not recommend Brown, adding that he and the governor’s office wanted to keep politics out of base redevelopment.
“He’s hired and paid for by elected officials,” Gerzofsky said. “We learned early on to keep (MRRA) independent of elected officials. Gary knew about the governor’s concerns.”
Gerzofsky, who as a state representative served on the Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority, the agency that preceded MRRA, said that if Brown was appointed, it would open the door for other town managers in communities affected by base closure.
Asked why Brown had been appointed in the first place, Gerzofsky said Brown’s previous post as assistant town manager provided sufficient distance between him and the Town Council.
He added that Brown’s previous appointment was questioned by assistant minority leader Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, during confirmation hearings. Gerzofsky said that, at the time, Brown promised to surrender his MRRA seat if he ever became Brunswick’s town manager.
Brown said he didn’t recall a specific challenge to his appointment, but that he did promise Gerzofsky he would step down once he became manager. However, Brown, who was the acting manager for nearly a year before being hired last summer said that each time he asked if he should resign the post, he was told to remain on the MRRA board.
“The question is that if my being an employee of the council is an issue, why wasn’t it an issue a year ago when I was the acting town manager?” Brown asked.
He added that if his position as a council employee indeed posed conflicts, it would’ve been during his tenure as the acting manager when he was effectively auditioning for a permanent position.
Asked if Gerzofsky ever told him that he would oppose his renomination, Brown said no, adding that he was contacted by the governor’s office in April to reapply.
Despite questions about his influence on the nomination process, Gerzofsky said he wasn’t “backing down”.
“I’m not trying to circumvent the intent of the (statue governing MRRA) and the Town Council shouldn’t be either,” Gerzofsky said. “I never misled Brown … If I endorsed him I’d have to endorse every town manager (in the area impacted by BNAS closure).”
Gerzofsky said that leadership on the Legislature’s Business Research and Economic Development committee – the committee that votes to send nominees to full confirmation by the state Senate – wouldn’t support Brown’s reappointment, either.
“They questioned his appointment the first time,” he said. “There’s no way they’ll support him now.”
Pols was unconvinced.
“What seems to be lost on these folks is (the) fact that “Manager” Gary Brown is no more beholden to the Brunswick Town Council than he was as either Assistant Manager or Interim Manager, yet he was appointed and served well in both those capacities,” Pols wrote.
Pols’ comments underscore concerns that Brunswick is losing influence in the redevelopment process.
But Gerzofsky argued that Baldacci’s recent slate of nominations includes three Brunswick residents. If confirmed, the nominees would bring Brunswick’s representation on the 11-person board from two members to four.
Gerzofsky also argued that the new nominees would add “sparkplugs and horsepower” to the board.
“There’s no fluff here,” he said.
Baldacci’s Brunswick nominations include Sally DelGreco, of DelGreco Strategic Partners, Sande Updegraph, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp. and Steven Weems, the current director of the Brunswick Economic Development Corp.
Farmer said that DelGreco received a recommendation from U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. She and Weems were nominated by the Cumberland County Commissioners. The latter is technically allowed to nominate candidates to the MRRA board, although it hasn’t previously.
Gerzofsky acknowledged Monday that he contacted Commissioner Malory O’Shaughnessy asking her to nominate DelGreco and Weems. He said he did so after the Town Council on Dec. 21 declined to consider additional endorsements.
“I figured that if the Brunswick Town Council didn’t want to consider anyone else besides (Brown), perhaps the county, which is also affected by base closure, would,” Gerzofsky said.
Freeport resident Rita Armstrong, of Fleury Real Estate and former vice president at L.L. Bean, was also nominated. According to Farmer, Armstrong received recommendations from the chairman of the Freeport Town Council and Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport.
Topsham’s Charlie Spies, a current MRRA member, was nominated for reappointment.
The legislature now has 45 days to review and confirm the appointments. A public hearing by the BRED committee has yet to be scheduled.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org