SARATOGA COUNTY — The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership Board of Directors picked a new chairman at its organizational meeting on Monday, but did it in a way that illustrates political conflicts continue over the county’s economic development efforts.
In an 8-7 vote, the board selected Maria Moran — the town of Wilton’s controller and a board member only since January — as its new chairperson, rather than new acting chairwoman Penny Hill, who had been discussed by the board’s executive committee to become chairperson for the coming year.
Tim Dunn, a Malta town councilman who also joined the board in January, was elected vice chairman , over Rocco Ferraro of Clifton Park, who will instead remain in his current role as treasurer.
Underlying the split vote is the political divide on the county Board of Supervisors between a group of large-town and city supervisors and those representing smaller towns — a split that has occurred even though nearly everyone involved is a Republican. The county uses a population-weighted voting system that lets as few as eight supervisors outvote the 15 other supervisors, as they did in January in narrowly electing Supervisor Todd Kusnierz of Moreau as board chairman.
Kusnierz is also on the board of the Prosperity Partnership, serving as its secretary. He supported the new slate of officers, which included keeping him as secretary.
The Prosperity Partnership is the county’s economic development organization, seeking to attract new businesses to the county and retain and help existing businesses. It is nominally independent of county government, though its board members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and it gets most of its funding from the county. The bylaws require business interests to be on the board, as well as some supervisors.
The Prosperity Partnership was established in 2014 after the county’s split with the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., a completely independent economic development organization that had contracted to do economic development marketing for several decades. The Prosperity Partnership and SEDC operated in competition for several years, then in 2019 they reached a conceptual agreement to merge, with each playing a separate role in the county’s economic development efforts. Merger talks, however, collapsed last year amid accusations of bad faith.
Prosperity Partnership then-chairman Kevin Hedley resigned last October, leading to Hill’s promotion from vice chairwoman to acting chair woman. Several other board members also left, leading to new people being appointed at the Board of Supervisors January organizational meeting, including Moran and Dunn. They were nominated by Kusnierz following his bitterly contested election as Board of Supervisors chairman, and they were approved by the supervisors in a split vote, with 11 supervisors opposing their appointments.
Hill, dean of economic development and workforce initiatives at Hudson Valley Community College, has been on the board since the beginning of the Prosperity Partnership. Despite not being elected chairwoman, she said she will remain on the board.
Moran, a certified public accountant, worked for the state Comptroller’s Office before joining the town of Wilton in 2018. Dunn has worked in high-tech economic development and communications in the Capital Region and beyond, in addition to heading Malta’s economic development initiatives as a town councilman.
“I believe we need a diverse set of ideas, a diverse set of skills, and I believe this slate has it,” said board member Jeff Jones, a financial consultant who nominated the new slate.
Moran said she expects to work collaboratively with the entire board. “I think we can really move together going forward, and I’m looking for forward to being part of that team,” she said.
Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett, who is also board member, supported the new leadership slate. “We need to deliver results and do it quickly. That should be our focus,” he said. “Let’s get behind this leadership, show some confidence in their abilities.”
Board members David Wood of Charlton and Ferraro both said they don’t personally oppose Moran and Dunn, but were “very concerned” about how the the new slate was brought forward, and not following the past practice that would have moved Hill up the slate. Board member Brendan Chudy, director of legal services for GlobalFoundries Fab 8, said he and the chip giant supported Hill, and warned about county politics being brought onto the board.
“I think you’re running a significant risk of alienating your board members who are from private organizations, private companies,” Chudy said. “I’m not sure if that is your intention. To me, the message is being declared pretty loud and clear.”
Among the four town supervisors on the partnership’s board, Kusnierz and Barrett voted for the new slate, and Benny Zlotnick of Milton and Eric Connolly of Ballston voted against it.
Prosperity Partnership President Shelby Schneider said the organization has been working recently on facilitating the environmental cleanup and redevelopment of the historic Victory Packaging building in the village of Victory, and helping the tiny community seek funding for a new fire station. It has also been involved in the effort to bring the Scannell warehousing/light manufacturing project to Malta, and it anticipates working with small businesses and restaurants in coming weeks as federal COVID-19 rescue package funding becomes available.