SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 17, 2012

Business liaison gets green light

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — He stayed late to see it done, but Mayor Ted Bettencourt got his new “business liaison” post at last Thursday’s meeting of the City Council. “I want to roll out the red carpet for businesses in this city,” he said.

Citing the need to attract taxpaying organizations, Bettencourt acknowledged that the city could do more to make them feel welcomed.

“Our permitting process can be quite cumbersome,” he said. Business people faced with making appeals to multiple departments might get discouraged, he said, noting. “we have lost opportunities in the past.”

The liaison would help cut through red tape, assist would-be entrepreneurs in finding the departments they need to visit, “and walk them through every step.”

As he has before, the mayor stressed that the new post would not add to the budget. The new person hired would take the spot previously occupied by a city planner who left for another job. Meanwhile, he judged that just by doing the job efficiently, bringing in or keeping businesses in the city, the liaison would generate the tax dollars to pay for the position.

Councilors almost universally praised the concept.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Barry Osborne. If businesses are to invest in Peabody, he added, it makes sense for the city to make an investment in getting them here.

“It’s a fabulous idea,” said Dave Gravel.

“This position,” said member Mike Garabedian, “is a position long overdue.”

The main caution from the council was over the proposed salary, from $45,500 to $58,500, which they worried might not be sufficient to attract a good candidate.

Anne Manning-Martin raised the strongest objection, however, wondering why the mayor sent the request to the council when the job might just as well have been assigned to someone in the community development department. She worried over who the liaison would answer to and cited a previous situation where the building inspector, on paper beholden to that department, reported to no one.

“This person, business liaison, will be reporting directly to Karen Sawyer, community development director,” Bettencourt said.

“I support this 100 percent,” said member Barry Sinewitz. “But one thing was left out.”

He asked for a policy where the questions and problems raised by the business community could be brought early on to the appropriate councilor.

The measure passed with only Manning-Martin voting in the negative, though she also praised the mayor’s efforts to revitalize the city.

“I almost feel guilty in not supporting this,” she said.