State legislation stalls that would ban elected officials from IDA boards

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 September 2021 at 9:51 am

Local Orleans EDA says board would lose important connections without elected leaders

Photo by Tom Rivers: Michael Dobell (second from right in back) is the CEO/CFO of the Orleans Economic Development Agency. He is shown speaking during last Friday’s board meeting. Four of the seven board members are elected officials, including Chairman Paul Hendel, far right, who is a member of the Murray Town Board. Three county legislators – Ken DeRoller, John DeFilipps and Skip Draper – also are on the board.

ALBION – Members of the Orleans Economic Development Agency have been closely watching a bill in Albany that would ban elected officials from serving on boards of the industrial development agencies.

The legislation passed in the State Senate but failed in the State Assembly earlier this month. Proponents of the legislation say the elected officials can give out tax breaks and assistance to businesses through their roles on the IDA, and then may ask those businesses for campaign donations.

State Sen. James Skoufis of the Hudson Valley sponsored the legislation that he said would eliminate conflcits of interest for IDA board members. He wants to prohibit any elected official serving at the county, town, city, or village level from serving as a member of the board of any IDA.

In Orleans County, four of the seven board members on the Orleans EDA are elected officials. Paul Hendel, the board chairman, is a Murray town councilman. Three others are county legislators – Ken DeRoller of Kendall, John DeFilipps of Clarendon and Skip Draper of Shelby.

The three other board members who aren’t elected officials include John Misiti, Ed Urbanik of Farm Credit and Carol D’Agostino, the Kendall High School principal.

The Orleans EDA members aren’t hitting up businesses that work with the EDA for campaign dollars in their low-budget re-election efforts, EDA board members said.

Hendel said the board members, especially the county legislators, have important connections within the county government and community, as well as with state and federal officials. The County Legislature provides $190,000 of the EDA budget and also contributes other important in-kind services with infrastructure work.

The elected officials also are engaged in local issues, and can give insights on potential stumbling blocks with projects and also ways to keep economic development initiatives moving forward.

Kevin Zanner, the EDA attorney, told the board on Friday he doesn’t expect the state legislation, banning elected officials from IDA boards, will gain any momentum in Albany.

If the legislation was approved and the elected couldn’t serve on the board, the EDA could be hard-pressed to find volunteers to serve in the roles that would bring a depth of experience and insight to match the elected officials.

In the past, when the EDA had a vacancy on the board, it has sometimes reached out to a recently retired elected official. Ken Rush, a former county legislator, served on the board after he ended his time on the Legislature.

Two of the current board members – DeRoller and DeFilipps – are retiring from Legislature after this year. The County Legislature, which appoints some of the EDA members, could ask the outgoing legislators to continue to serve with the EDA in 2022.