Orange County Legislature Replaces Entire IDA Board Over Transparency Complaints
John Jordan | March 5, 2021
GOSHEN—The Orange County Legislature, frustrated over attempts to secure financial documents from the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, voted to remove the entire seven-member IDA Board of Directors on Thursday evening after a two-hour-long executive session.
Orange County legislators cited what they termed had been the lack of transparency by the Orange County Industrial Development Agency for its decision to remove the seven directors of the IDA and the Orange County Funding Corp. The New Windsor-based Industrial Development Agency is under a cloud of suspicion. The IDA’s operations are currently the subject of a probe by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the New York State Comptroller’s Office and the New Windsor Police Department.
In an 18-0 vote with two abstentions, including one abstention by County Legislature Chairman Stephen Brescia (who served as one of the seven Directors replaced), the County Board removed the IDA Board consisting of Mary Ellen Rogulski, Chairman; Edward A. Diana, Vice Chair; James DiSalvo, Second Vice Chair; Brescia, Secretary; Michael Gaydos, Assistant Secretary; John I. McCarey and Denise Quinn.
The new IDA Board, whose term expires on Dec. 31, 2021, is: Chairman Dan Bloomer, Director of Operations for Orange County; Mike Torelli, Business Development Director, New York Stewart International Airport; County Legislator Paul Ruszkiewicz; John Douthit, President, Burke Catholic High School; Town of Woodbury Board Member Tyler Etzel; Leslie Pierri, retired New York City Police Dept.; and Orange County Community College Professor Vincent Odock.
The Orange County IDA is headed by Chief Executive Officer Laurie Villasuso and Managing Director Vincent Cozzolino.
County Legislator Ruszkiewicz, who heads the Education and Economic Development Committee and County Legislator James O’Donnell said that the legislature took the action because there is currently “no communication” taking place between the legislature and the Orange County IDA Board. They explained that the County Legislature has oversight over the IDA Board, while the IDA Board has oversight over the agency’s staff.
The County Legislature for months has been attempting to secure financial information concerning the IDA’s finances. In February, the IDA hired an independent auditor, who met with members of the Education and Economic Development Committee, but did not supply documents connected with the presentation. After promising to meet soon thereafter with the information, the committee was subsequently notified that neither the auditor or the IDA attorneys would appear at the meeting. The Middletown Times Herald Record reported recently that the IDA has retained as outside counsel the law firm Hinckley Allen, which has offices in New York City and Albany.
Both Ruszkiewicz and O’Donnell said the lack of transparency prompted the Legislature to replace the IDA Board. Both men stated that when the results of the investigations being conducted by the Orange County District Attorney and the State Comptroller are concluded, some or all IDA Board members that were replaced, could be reappointed to serve on the IDA Board in the future.
Ruszkiewicz said that with the number of development projects in the pipeline in Orange County, it is critical that the County Legislature be informed on IDA operations.
The Orange County IDA released a statement on the legislature’s actions, stating: “Over the past decade, the IDA has achieved significant successes in job creation and revenue generation for Orange County. The current board is proud to have fulfilled its duties and obligations to benefit local taxpayers and businesses alike.”
The new IDA Board had to file paperwork with the state and recent sat for the first time.
Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus, State Senator James Skoufis, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Investigations Committee, and State Senator Michael Martucci released a joint statement concerning the legislature’s action concerning the Orange County IDA. “The Orange County IDA needs to explain themselves to taxpayers. Shutting down and lawyering up because of a pending investigation tells us there is a big problem,” they stated. “We applaud the Orange County District Attorney for launching an investigation and, if anyone at the IDA is found to have acted inappropriately, taxpayers must be made whole financially.”
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.