DMI’s president defends its role in preserving downtown Milford

MILFORD — At their latest retreat workshop, members of City Council had a lot to say about Downtown Milford Inc., a nonprofit focused on economic development partially funded by the city.

But DMI’s leadership wasn’t there to provide their side of the story.

“They’ve asked me to come talk to them at one of their next council work sessions, which will probably be (in) January” said Peggy Reilly, DMI’s president.

Ms. Reilly said she has taken on many additional responsibilities at DMI since former Executive Director Trish Gerken stepped down in August to work as a public information officer for the Milford School District.

During council’s retreat Nov. 16, Councilman Mike Boyle had questions about the group.

“DMI, the last I heard, is operating with an interim director, and the president has decided to step aside,” he said. “Are they still a viable organization or are they going to go away?”

This week, Ms. Reilly said she wouldn’t be stepping down until she has to.

“Our bylaws say I can only be president for two years,” she said. “My two years are up at the end of June.

“I’m not stepping down. I’m stepping aside, so someone else can take over,” she explained.

She said that someone from the board is planning on coming into her position in July.

“It hasn’t been voted on, so I don’t want to talk about it yet,” Ms. Reilly said of the future president. “It will be somebody that’s presently on the board that will take it over.”

She also confirmed that DMI has been operating with an interim executive director and will continue to do so for now.

“Kat Perfetti has been our interim executive director, and she will remain there for the foreseeable future,” Ms. Reilly said.

“We are going to keep the executive director as an interim position for the time being. Because of COVID, it is extremely difficult right now” to find a permanent replacement, she said.

Councilman Todd Culotta last week wondered if DMI needed a full-time executive director in the first place.

“The executive director, which is what Trish was, is a paid position which most of their funding goes to,” he said.

“Is that still needed? Because they’ve had a lot of turnover in the position,” Councilman Culotta said. “In the five years I’ve been here (on council), there have been three or four executive directors.”

Ms. Reilly said it can be hard to keep someone steady in that position.

“Usually an executive director will last about two years, three years depending on what they’re doing,” she said.

“We had one that was there for two years. He retired,” Ms. Reilly said. “Then Trish Gerken … got offered a better position, so she left.”

She added that the turnaround is due to the position’s demanding nature.

“We wish we would get someone for 100 years, but it’s the reality of the job,” Ms. Reilly said. “It’s a very difficult position.”

She said the job entails “a lot of meetings. You have day meetings, night meetings. There’s just a lot that goes with the position.”

“That’s what people sign up to do, but I understand (that) if you have family or you’re young, you’re going to be wanting something that might give you more of a work-life balance,” she said.

At the retreat workshop, Councilman Culotta went as far as pondering aloud whether the boards and committees that make up DMI could function independent of the parent organization.

Ms. Reilly responded that they likely could, but that the city would pay a price.

She said that DMI’s existence is what allows Milford to stay part of the Delaware branch of the Main Street America program. Ms. Reilly said she sees this as an impediment to both eliminating DMI and its executive director position.

“One of the rules of the Main Street program is that 30% of our funding has to be received from our city, so we would have to have that discussion with the city,” she said.

If Milford were to leave the Main Street program, it would be shut out of the resources, grants and other assistance that organization provides its member communities.

Ultimately, council members expressed support for DMI and what it does for Milford.

“Obviously, we all know the value they provide for the growth and operation of downtown,” Councilman Culotta said. “The events they conduct, between the farmers market, the various fairs and whatnot, are quite valuable.”

Councilman Dan Marabello agreed.

“I think I’m that only one who was on (DMI’s) board at one time when it was just getting off its feet, and there’s a lot of things you don’t know,” he said.

“You have to think of the things they do. Do you want to see them discontinued?” he asked. “The farmers market, the Bud & Bug Festival, the Ladybug (Music) Festival. They’re involved with downtown. This year, it’s hard to tell because of the pandemic.”

Ms. Reilly said the pandemic has hit DMI’s fundraising efforts hard.

“We would have to see where we are with COVID to figure out if we could start getting money in again,” she said. “It’s hard when you’re not doing events.”