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Town promotion committee goes back to the drawing board

BRATTLEBORO—A request to launch a town promotion committee with a budget of $20,000 is going back to the drawing board after a long, and slightly heated, discussion at the April 5 Selectboard meeting.

Members of the Town Arts Committee presented the proposal with the goal of coordinating and expanding the promotion and marketing of Brattleboro, its arts and culture scene, and small businesses.

While the proposal was presented by the Arts Committee, it appeared the promotion committee would be a separate entity.

“Currently organizations such as the Brattleboro Downtown Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, the Latchis Group, and the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center all work separately, with limited funds, with very little success in elevating the stature and visibility of our community,” declared the promotion committee proposal submitted to the board.

“In many cases,” the proposal continued. “The existing efforts contradict each other, hurting the efforts of these organizations and the town at large.”

The proposal suggested that the 10-member committee’s budget come from a “surplus” from the revenue raised through the town’s rooms, alcohol, and meals taxes.

Also included in the proposal was language that the town does not do much to promote many of the independent workers in town— such as artists and small business owners — and that giving its support to the promotions committee would change that.

The proposal drew mixed reactions from the board.

Returning board member Dick DeGray, along with David Schoales, indicated they thought a promotion committee could play a role in marketing the town.

“Here’s an opportunity for the town to be a participant,” said DeGray, calling the proposal a win-win.

He also said if the board approved the new committee, it should commit to funding it for three years.

Board vice-chair Kate O’Connor, who is also the executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, took issue with the proposal, saying it does a disservice to the workers and volunteers involved in supporting Brattleboro.

She also took issue with the premise that the town does nothing to support local artists and businesses.

As an example, she cited the many grants and loans the town approves every year, such as the $50,000 approved for the Bradley House expansion or the financial support given to G.S. Precision’s expansion.

While the people behind the proposal have good intentions, she said, the proposal appeared to be based on a lack of understanding of what is happening in town.

Board Chair David Gartenstein disagreed outright with launching the committee.

“I have significant concerns,” he said.

He continued, “There isn’t a surplus from the room, meals, and alcohol taxes.”

Gartenstein also had concerns about the promotion committee’s scope and its budget.

“We don’t fund committees. We’ve never funded committees,” he said.

He clarified that while some committees have worked on specific projects that required funding, the committees themselves did not have a budget.

Board member John Allen said he stood on the fence. As the husband of an arts teacher, he could see a need for such a committee. But, he also shared O’Connor’s reaction to the proposal.

DeGray made a motion to approve and fund the committee for three years.

But after his fellow board members said they would vote against the motion, Adam Salviani, Chair of the town arts committee and the proposal’s spokesperson, asked the board to hold off.

The arts committee would rework the proposal and return to the board, Salviani said.

DeGray withdrew his motion.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #352 (Wednesday, April 13, 2016). This story appeared on page E2.

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