by Anthony Pucci
CCIDA … Those letters refer to the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency. What exactly is this agency and what does it do? According to its website, chemungcountyida.com, the CCIDA is a public benefit corporation of the State of New York. Its purpose is to “provide financial incentives to projects that have a positive impact on the community.” This agency was created by an act of the Chemung County Legislature in 1975; therefore, it is accountable to the Legislature and ultimately to the citizens of this county.
That all sounds very good. The problem, in my view, is that the CCIDA is often less than forthcoming in its accountability and transparency. In regard to some of its business dealings, the IDA might more aptly be named the IDK … I Don’t Know.
Let me provide a recent example. The CCIDA owns the downtown arena and has put a management team in place to revive this historically troubled enterprise. Bringing back hockey and offering other types of entertainment is all well and good. However, at its Oct. 26 meeting, when the subject of the arena was brought up, the chairman of the IDA suggested that they go into executive session to discuss “a financial matter.” (Archived videos of their meetings are available at chemungcountyny.gov).
The problem is that discussing a financial matter is an insufficient reason to go into executive session. According to the Open Meetings Law of New York State (see opengovernment.ny.gov), the public has “the right to attend meetings of public bodies, listen to debate and watch the decision-making process.” Yes, we can attend the meetings, but what about the debate and the decision-making? One out of three just isn’t good enough. Section 105 of that law defines valid reasons for going into executive session. Let me assure you that simply discussing the finances of an entity such as the arena is not one of them.
The Oct. 26 meeting lasted all of six minutes before going into executive session. After the executive session, the CCIDA convened for another two minutes during which the 2024 budget was approved. The public portion of the meeting lasted a total of eight minutes. What happened in between? Where was the debate? Where was the decision-making process? CCIDK!
Was the October meeting a fluke? Looking at the record, the answer is “no.” Almost every meeting of the IDA goes into executive session. IDAs across New York State are coming under increasing scrutiny of their actions. It is time for the CCIDA to take the Open Meetings Law seriously. It is time for the Legislature to insist that the taxpayers be fully informed. It is time for answers, not excuses.
Anthony Pucci resides in the town of Veteran.
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