Portland councilor: Economic task force should work in public

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PORTLAND — A task force appointed by city staff and the local chamber of commerce has been working quietly since the beginning of the year to come up with an economic development plan for the city.

Now, at least one city councilor says the group’s work should come out from behind the scenes.  

The Portland Economic Development Task Force, which also includes members of the city’s Creative Portland Corp., is working on policy direction for the city, according to city Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell.

Mitchell said that while economic development policy is included in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, there is not a stand-alone policy directing the city’s economic development.

A  graduate-level class at Massachusetts Institute of Technology created an economic profile of the city, Mitchell said. The 20-member task force is using that profile to create the economic development plan.

The MIT students wrapped up their work in May, and the task force took off in June and July and began meeting regularly in August with a consultant. The meetings, at the Portland Regional Chamber offices, have not been publicized.

Mitchell said there has been nothing to share up to this point.

“By late October or early November we hope to have concrete material,” he said.

But some city officials have asked that they be brought up to speed on the work of the task force. City Councilor John Anton said he has heard nothing since January, when the Community Development Committee, on which he serves, was presented with the idea of creating a task force by Mitchell.

“I’d like to know who is on the committee, and what their process is for engaging the public and stakeholders,” Anton  said. “It’s been nine months. I think the CDC and council need to be brought up to speed.”

Mitchell said any completed Economic Development Plan for the city would go to the City Council, the chamber and Creative Portland Corp. for approval.

In a Sept. 8 e-mail sent to Anton and City Manager Joe Gray, Mitchell said the task force plans to meet with interested parties over the next four months, including providing updates to the CDC, the Downtown Portland Corp., the Creative Portland Corp., and the chamber. He also said a link is being established on the city website for public input on the remainder of the plan development.

“This is the kind of work city departments should be doing,” Anton said. But, he said, the work should be public.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net