On Monday Mayor Bill Finch announced Donald Eversley, his head of planning and economic development for the past four years, is assuming a new role running the Bridgeport Economic Development Corporation (BEDCO) and earning the same, $123,000 salary.
Those of you not involved in business and economic development (and even some of you that are) might at this point be wondering, “What’s BEDCO, how’s it operate, who funds it and who holds it accountable?”
Very good questions the Finch administration didn’t get into in the press release claiming Eversley will “reinvigorate BEDCO.”
To his credit, the mayor did take some time after Monday night’s City Council meeting to try to explain it to me. I also spoke this afternoon with Paul Timpanelli, the regional council’s CEO, who filled in a few more blanks.
BEDCO is not some novelty. Hartford and New Haven have economic development corporations. Basically BEDCO is a private nonprofit partnership between the city and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council that takes on/manages specific economic development projects.
BEDCO had at one time been active in the city – Finch worked there prior to running for mayor in 2007 – but has been pretty dormant for the past several years.
Finch Monday credited BEDCO with renovating Read’s ArtSpace and the Arcade Mall and Hotel. BEDCO’s last project was the Seaview Avenue Industial Park, a $12 million endeavor slowed, Timpanelli said, by the recession.
Finch believes the time is right for a BEDCO revival and wants Eversley, through BEDCO, to focus on three initiatives: Growing the mayor’s Eco-Industrial Park, re-positioning the Bridgeport Shipyard, and implementing a new minority contractor assistance program.
Although Finch’s office announced Eversley’s move, Timpanelli said the hire had to be approved by BEDCO’s board members.
Even though the organization has not been active, the board continues to meet quarterly, Timpanelli said. However while the BEDCO bylaws allow as many as 25 members, Timpanelli said the current roster numbers four: Timpanelli; attorney Tom Walsh; Ed Lavernoich, the city’s ex-deputy director of economic development; and Kenneth Oppedisano, CEO of Main Enterprises.
So basically Finch recommended Eversley and BEDCO’s board of four approved him.
“It’s been under discussion for the last couple of weeks,” Timpanelli said.
But because BEDCO is a private nonprofit it is not subject to state Freedom of Information Act laws, according to Timpanelli, which means there are no public records of the board’s deliberations.
Timpanelli also said Eversley, whose office will be located at the business council, is considered a “contract agent” for BEDCO but Eversley’s $123,000 salary will still be paid by the city.
“In the past up until six or seven years ago the city always gave a financial contribution to BEDCO to the tune of $100,000 to $125,000,” Timpanelli said. “Everything (else) BEDCO needed to continue operationally it had to gain in project funds.”
As part of the BEDCO overhaul Finch and Timpanelli hope to repopulate the board. But Timpanelli added the current quartet will likely amend the bylaws to reduce the number of members to around nine, with two thirds representing the private sector and the balance city government.
So that’s what I’ve got so far on BEDCO and Eversley’s new job.
Some still-to-be-explored questions:
1. How is the city able to afford Eversley’s salary AND that of his replacement, announced today?
2. Is BEDCO really completely off-the-grid when it comes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act? My initial instincts agree with Timpanelli, although the fact Eversley’s salary is funded through public dollars does raise a question my mind.
3. Who will be on the new BEDCO board?