Bellows Falls development director resigns

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ROCKINGHAM — After six years of serving as director of the Development Office, Francis "Dutch" Walsh is resigning today.

"It's just time for me to go," Walsh said Wednesday evening in a phone interview.

The Select Board has held several meetings recently where board members went into executive session with a lawyer to discuss, "personnel." At this year's March 1 organizational meeting, board members went into executive session for that matter and when they came out of executive session, Chairman Lamont Barnett made a motion to defund the Development Office until further notice and instructed Town Manger Willis "Chip" Stearns to secure the town's interests, up to and including taking keys and passwords. The motion did not pass.

"Well obviously, I did want to make changes in the Development Office; we will take time to review how the department delivers services to the community," said Barnett. "It may be a combination of citizen committees. There are two standing — the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance and the Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation. Maybe with some citizen participation we can augment that with some new people."

Barnett noted that the Select Board put an assessment of Walsh's position on the April 19 agenda, but now that may change since Walsh is resigning Friday.

"We have to take that into consideration and now we need to engage the community for economic and community development," said Barnett.

He said the development office cost the town around $100,000, including Walsh's salary and one-third of a receptionist/secretary's pay.

"My feeling is, when I look back, I don't see a lot of things coming out of that department that would justify the town spending that kind of money. I hope we can spend less money or increase value to the community," said Barnett.

He also mentioned that there are some issues regarding the Vilas Bridge and Chroma Technology, which is considering an expansion.

When Walsh was asked if talk around town and Select Board meetings discussing "personnel" influenced his decision to leave, he said, "No comment."

Walsh has accepted a job with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, where he says he will be managing real estate, such as the Cotton Mill and the Book Press buildings.

In reflecting on his time at the Development Office, he said he most enjoyed working with the people.

"It's a great staff there, a lot of potential and support," said Walsh. "When Chip Stearns came on as Manager, I knew we were headed in the right direction with plans and positive development and movement. I can't say enough about the people who work there."

In leaving the office, Walsh said the town has a lot of opportunity to grow in the downtown area, the industrial park and with worldwide companies, but it very much needs economic development and to utilize young professionals in the area.

"They are our future," Walsh said about young professionals.

Recently, on March 29, Zoning/Planning Administrator Charles "Chuck" Wise read aloud an open letter to the Select Board in support of the Town Manager. It was signed by 13 of the town's department heads, which led Barnett to feel it may have put employees in an uncomfortable situation.

"If that letter hadn't been written, I would have written it," said Walsh at the March 29 Select Board meeting."I would have done it at home and I would have done it on letter head. And I was asked to sign this; I didn't have to sign it, but I did and no one was coerced."

Walsh's last day at the office will be April 8 and he believes he will begin work at the BDCC in early May.

"I can't stress enough what the employees have done in the downtown, it is fantastic, the opportunities that exist are great," said Walsh. "In some ways I wish I could stay there to watch it develop."

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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