At their February meeting, the Dutchess County Legislature unanimously approved a change requiring the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and Local Development Corporation (LDC) members to complete the same annual disclosure forms as county department heads and elected officials.

The move came after years of resistance by Republican legislators who had removed the requirement in late 2020 after IDA members complained and threatened to quit.

“Every year, I would try to add [the IDA/LDC members] back in. But the Republicans always voted it down,” said Legislator Kristofer Munn. “With millions of dollars of tax breaks on the line, I believe it makes sense to know if any conflicts of interest could impact their decisions.”

The IDA and LDC are not-for-profit entities created to promote economic development and job creation in Dutchess County by providing financial assistance through tax breaks and other incentives. Members are volunteers nominated by the county executive and approved by the legislature.

New disclosure requirements were implemented in 2019 when the legislature overhauled the county’s ethics rules. They require eligible individuals to list all business connections for themselves and immediate family members, especially companies that do business with Dutchess County, to ensure complete transparency around possible conflicts of interest. The annual disclosure requirements are virtually identical to New York State government’s rules.

In 2019, the county legislature included the members of the IDA and LDC in the list of those required to file the disclosures. But in 2020, the Republican majority removed them from the list shortly after complaints surfaced from the volunteer board.

The attorney for the IDA and LDC members went before the Board of Ethics on July 24, 2020, and requested an additional extension on the filing deadline, which had already been extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to minutes from the meeting, there had been complaints to then-County Executive Marc Molinaro’s office that volunteer board members would rather resign than fill out the form and that certain volunteer board members feel that they must disclose irrelevant information that may cause them to lose money or business dealings and would not reveal any potential conflicts of interest.

According to campaign finance records, many members of the IDA and LDC are also donors to Molinaro and the Republican party.

Don Cappillino, attorney for the IDA, added that the Financial Disclosure Statement could be an issue since it can be disclosed under FOIL, and there could be a situation wherein the information is used by board members’ competition, for instance, to gain clients from them in specific businesses, according to the minutes.

“That’s understandable, and maybe they’ll choose to step down,” said Munn about the complaints. “But there are 300 thousand people in Dutchess County; I’m sure we can find seven qualified people willing to serve and to complete the disclosures.”

Facebook Comments

Enjoy having this local, independent, nonprofit news source? Help us keep reporting and become a member today. Already a member? Sign in to get rid of this notice.