Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky vowed again Wednesday to force the Fulton County Economic Development Corp. to disclose its financial records.
“It’s going to end up with the truth coming out, whether we have to drag it out of them or they smarten up,” Brodsky said, commenting two weeks after he and his Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions demanded agency records on executive salaries and bonuses.
Silence from EDC officials may be explained by confidentiality agreements agency board members said they were directed to sign Friday during a board meeting at the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce. Board members said the agency’s law firm on the case, Hodgson Russ, asked that the forms be signed at the meeting.
Calls to EDC Board President Laurence E. Kelly, agency Executive Vice President Michael Reese, Hodgon Russ lawyer Michelle Merola and several board members were not returned Wednesday.
Brodsky filed his demand after a Daily Gazette story detailed salaries and bonuses to the top two executives of about $400,000 in 2007 and more than $500,000 in 2008. The compensation was incentive-based, a pay system state officials said last week they have not encountered before among local development corporations.
The demand for disclosure under provisions of the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act also follows a related determination by the state Authorities Budget Office that local development corporations — regardless of whether they were incorporated as private agencies — are public entities because they perform a public mission.
Fulton County EDC and its real estate subsidiary are among 12 LDCs in the state challenging the Authorities Budget Office ruling. There are about 200 LDCs in the state. In that group of 12, the LDC in Oneida County lost its court case on the issue.
Brodsky said EDC officials did make an inquiry with his office on Friday, but he said he has not responded and was not able on Wednesday to disclose the nature of it.
“My office owes a response to the inquiry,” he said.
Brodsky questioned the legality of board members signing confidentiality agreements and said the act may violate state law.
“No board member has a right to withhold information that the public has a right to see,” he said.
“This is stonewalling of a quality that Richard Nixon would be proud of,” Brodsky said of the agency’s general lack of response to his demands.
Brodsky questioned the motivation for the silence. “It is common sense to think that if they had a decent explanation for this they would be willing to talk about it,” he said. “Who are they protecting and why?”
Though the Rockland Economic Development Corp. is on the ABO list of LDCs challenging its ruling, the agency, which handles several economic development functions under contract for Rockland County, is cooperating with the ABO, said President and CEO Ron Hicks.
Hicks said his agency, which also handles the county’s Industrial Development Agency and the Empire Zones Program, is audited annually, complies with Freedom of Information requests and files all financial information with Rockland County.
“I think we’re very transparent,” Hicks said. He said the agency is asking ABO for a limited exemption from Reform Act requirements compelling even small LDCs to file regular financial reports with the state, subjecting board members to financial disclosure and necessitating formation of new committees.
But, said Hicks, “we have been cooperating and have even been proactive with ABO.” With a seven-person agency, he said Reform Act measures that were designed to control such large entities as the state Power Authority would be unnecessarily burdensome to daily operations.
He said he and other executives at the Rockland EDC are paid straight salaries.
Leonard A. Fosbrook, executive director of the Warren County EDC, said officials at his agency were contacted by the ABO about a year ago but discussions about the status of the EDC as a private entity have not continued.
Fosbrook said while the agency was incorporated as a private nonprofit and appears to be exempt from the Reform Act, it files its budget with the county and pays executives straight salaries.
Josh Poupure, spokesman for Capitalize Albany — the former Albany County Economic Development Corp. — said he would inquire about the agency’s position on the ABO’s interpretation of the Reform Act. He said executives at Capitalize Albany work for a straight salary.
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