Having an independent group of movers and shakers doing its all to attract new business and boost economic development within Sandwich seems like a great idea.
It’s no wonder town officials and residents endorsed the creation of the Sandwich Economic Initiatives Corporation (SEIC) nearly a decade ago.
The thought was that the SEIC, set free from some of the red tape that binds the town’s hands, would be able to maneuver among private developers to negotiate and even strike deals that would drive up tax revenue.
The group was given the authority to raise money and even issue bonds to assist with getting economic development projects off the ground.
In concept, the SEIC seemed a godsend in terms of business growth.
That was the idea, anyway.
But even with the best of intentions, sometimes great ideas fizzle.
So it has been with the SEIC.
In the nine years the SEIC has existed, it has not brought a single project to fruition or generated even one tax dollar for the town.
Members have done a lot of talking and come up with many grand ideas—from launching ferry service from the Sandwich Marina to building a hotel next door to the town’s golf course—but every single one of these has fallen flat.
Part of the problem, as we see it, has been the SEIC’s over-eagerness to hit a grand slam. The group is always swinging for the fences with its proposals. Instead, perhaps its members should have settled for a few base hits.
Another reason for the group’s lack of success is that it seems to have overlooked or outright ignored early warning signs that some of its proposals were doomed to fail. Take, for instance, the ferry service. The Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the marina area and controls the Cape Cod Canal, has been clear from the very start that it would never entertain the idea of a ferry operating out of Sandwich.
It was never going to happen, but still the group pursued the plan.
The hotel at the golf course was also an impossibility. The town was clear with the SEIC that the land there was restricted for recreational or conservation purposes only. So why waste time on it?
Most recently, the SEIC was hot on the idea of bringing artist shanties to either the marina or the village area. Its members reasoned that the shanties would be vibrant additions to the town and would be a huge draw for tourists and their money. It was a lovely idea, but after months and months of fits and starts, the plan fell apart.
The SEIC was supposed to be a money generator. Instead, it ended up costing taxpayers a fair amount during the past nine years.
Some of this cost comes from the amount of work town staff were asked to do at the SEIC’s bidding on various project ideas.
But by far, the largest expense came when the SEIC hired its own consultant. In 2011, after the consultant had done the lion’s share of his work, Town Meeting approved $50,000 to pay at least some of his invoices.
Town officials say that the SEIC still owes the consultant at least another $50,000.
This is not what taxpayers signed up for.
Last year, when the artists shanties’ plan fell apart, SEIC member Robert Prol wrote a scathing letter of resignation to the group’s president. He was one of three members to resign at that time.
In the letter, Mr. Prol freely expressed his frustration over the group’s ineffectiveness.
“Our two-hour meeting last night was enough for me to accept the futility of continuing to serve on the SEIC board,” Mr. Prol wrote. “We wandered aimlessly across well-trod ground—ground we’ve been walking for more than two years.”
“Our meetings have no purpose, no stated outcomes desired, and as a result we are unable to facilitate the discussion to a stated conclusion,” he continued. “As I thought about this last night and into today I accepted that every meeting we’ve had for the past 30 months [has] been the same. A groundhog day of discussions repeated monthly. We blame the town government, yet we haven’t taken any steps to address this.”
Two weeks ago, three other members—the president, vice president and treasurer—announced plans to resign. As of this writing, their resignations have not yet been made official.
It’s time for the town to face facts: the SEIC has been a failed experiment.
It has been a draw on resources and has not produced even a blip on the economic development front.
The group should be dissolved.