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October 22, 2012

Group's role at issue in Beverly

As Main Streets lobbies for new legislation, some wonder about city funding

BEVERLY — As city councilors pondered whether to adopt a law allowing tax breaks for developers last week, they often addressed their questions to a man sitting in the audience at City Hall.

That man was Thomas Miller, a consultant hired by Beverly Main Streets to help pitch the tax break to the City Council and get it passed.

The role of Miller and Main Streets in such a key proposal before the council has raised questions about the organization’s increasing influence and possible conflicts of interest.

Beverly Main Streets is a nonprofit organization that is funded in part by a $20,000 donation from the city. That donation puts councilors in the position of being lobbied by an organization that the city helps to support.

Last June, Ward 6 City Councilor Brett Schetzsle proposed cutting the money for Main Streets from the budget, saying the organization’s interests might not always align with those of taxpayers. His proposal was voted down, 8-1.

Schetzsle said last week that the financial connection between the city and Main Streets allows the issue of a conflict of interest to be raised.

“I don’t think it takes away from the ability of the council to work through this and come up with the best solution,” he said. “But in my opinion, it does create questions that might otherwise be avoided.”

The city has been making donations to Main Streets for years through the mayor’s executive budget. That budget also includes contributions to nonprofits such as the River House homeless shelter, the YMCA, Beverly Bootstraps and the Beverly Chamber of Commerce.

But Main Streets, which began in 2002, has evolved from a small organization hosting events like Arts Fest Beverly and Beverly’s New Year to one that has taken on much of the responsibility for the downtown’s economic development.

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