Grattan seeks new state probe

Calls for review of CEDC as agency names interim director

HUDSON—Ahead of a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors this week the chairman of the board, Supervisors, Pat Grattan (R-Kinderhook), said he would ask for a new state investigation of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation.

If the board approves Mr. Grattan’s resolution, the request would be sent to the state Authorities Budget Office (ABO), which oversees independent agencies, called authorities, that are created by local governments and the state. In April the ABO completed an investigation of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, finding that four of its members, including the president, had “potential conflicts of interest” related to financial help for the Ginsberg’s Foods warehouse project.

The Columbia Economic Development Corporation, which is in the process of reorganizing, said this week it has retained F. Michael Tucker of Tucker Strategies, Inc. in Albany as interim executive director starting August 1, 2015. The previous executive director, county Director of Planning Ken Flood, was dismissed by the CEDC board last month. (See sidebar.)

Last month the Board of Supervisors appointed two of its members, Supervisors Art Baer (D-Hillsdale) and John Reilly (R-Gallatin), to conduct a review of the loans made by the Columbia Development Corporation (CEDC). But if Mr. Grattan’s plan is approved, the board’s investigation would be called off, letting state officials take over the task. Mr. Grattan announced his plans to ask the ABO to intervene in a July 2 email to all supervisors. He reminded his colleagues that because he was a member of the CEDC Board of Directors he had recused himself from the vote to appoint Mr. Baer and Mr. Reilly to investigate all CEDC loans made over the last five years in excess of $25,000. Mr. Grattan confirmed that he has since resigned from the CEDC board.

The chairman said in his email that after discussing the CEDC loan review matter with “several supervisors and the county attorney,” he had concluded that the responsibility for investigating actions of the CEDC rested with the ABO not the county. He described the Board of Supervisors’ resolution appointing Mr. Baer and Mr. Reilly as “jurisdictionally defective” and said it might delay a solution to the problem of possible conflicts of interest on the CEDC board.

Instead, Mr. Grattan offered his resolution that calls for the ABO to open a new investigation. The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to meet and could vote on the measure Wednesday July 8.

“If this resolution is passed,” Mr. Grattan told the supervisors, “the Board of Supervisors will demonstrate support for a full inquiry into any complaints, and the CEDC will be able to avail itself of the skill and expertise of the ABO during its proposed restructuring.”

As of Wednesday morning, July 8, Mr. Grattan’s Resolution #278 was in its fourth draft, with Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram) suggesting revisions. The changes would include giving the ABO a deadline of October 31, 2015 to conclude its review, and that following the review, any further county funding for the CEDC would be subject to a contract.

Mr. Reilly, who is also chairman of the county board’s Economic Development Committee, said by email Tuesday that he favors any “mutually acceptable” resolution to the CEDC situation that would allow the county to move forward drafting grant applications to the state and working on local revitalization efforts.

Mr. Baer pointed out Tuesday that he had originally sought an independent review of the CEDC and he could support the request to the ABO. A former chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Baer thought other supervisors would also approve Mr. Grattan’s resolution in some form.

“For me,” said Mr. Baer, “the big questions are: Will the ABO do the review? What will be their timetable for doing it? And what will be their time table for telling us if and when they will do it?” He said in his experience state agencies have “a long gestation period. And in some cases the agency doesn’t have the staff and time. In this case the agency has already done one review—do they want to do another?”

Mr. Grattan’s resolution could give the ABO a deadline for responding and, if the state agency misses the deadline, could reactivate the Baer-Reilly review. But Mr. Baer has announced that he will not run for supervisor this fall, a situation that might not leave enough time for completion of a review.

Colin Stair, a CEDC board member, also noted that election season is coming up. “I’m not a politician,” he said, and his company, Stair Galleries, does relatively little business in the county compared to other companies represented on the CEDC board. “I believe I was appointed to the board to provide a different perspective, and they got it,” said Mr. Stair, who cast the sole No vote on the decision by the CEDC to sell 33 acres obtained from the county to Ginsberg’s Institutional Foods for $1. “I didn’t believe in it,” he said Tuesday. That transaction was one of the key factors prompting the complaint that led to the ABO investigation.

The April ABO report determined sale was legal, but it also detailed the actions of four CEDC board members that created potential conflicts of interest.

About Mr. Grattan’s resolution, Mr. Stair would say only that “it may cost us some opportunities,” but overall, “things are changing for the better” at the CEDC. He said the CEDC had a hardworking staff that “hasn’t been led correctly.”

“I’m still hoping that it all hangs together and we go on to a more modern economy,” Mr. Stair said.

SIDEBAR: CEDC names interim chief

HUDSON–The appointment of F. Michael Tucker as interim director of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) effective August 1 means that the management team made up of members of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors can hand off the day-to-day management of the non-profit agency. The team has been handling since its former director was let go last month.

The release announcing Mr. Tucker’s appointment said he would assist CEDC by providing “organizational leadership and support” while the CEDC searches for a new full-time executive director.

The release announcing Mr. Tucker’s appointment said the board is actually retaining his company, Tucker Strategies, Inc., a real estate, energy, economic and business development consulting firm based in Albany. He will be working at the CEDC part time.

Mr. Tucker, a lawyer and licensed real estate broker, recently stepped down from his position as president and CEO at the Center for Economic Growth (CEG) after eight years to launch Tucker Strategies, Inc.

“In addition to his business and economic development skills, Mike Tucker has long been a catalyst in making the connections necessary for economic development to thrive,” CEDC board member Tony Jones said in the CEDC release.

 

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