QUEENSBURY — Members of the Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board’s loan committee defended their actions in overseeing the agency’s revolving loan fund, but elected officials from two counties bombarded them with questions and criticism of their operations Thursday.
Six members of the loan committee attended the meeting, along with Regional Planning Board Director Walter Young, and Young found himself the target of many of the organizational and policy questions that were raised.
Supervisors from Warren and Washington counties pointed out numerous violations of agency bylaws, such as lack of quorum, committee spots not being filled and non-voting members being allowed to vote. Questions were also raised about procedures followed in approving a number of loans.
The session ended with a call for a meeting of the entire Regional Planning Board as soon as possible to address the concerns. Despite months of questions and calls for abolition of the organization, which typically meets twice a year, and dissolution of the loan fund, the board has not held a meeting since late last year.
Washington County Treasurer Al Nolette called for a Regional Planning Board meeting immediately, voicing concern that he has “heard nothing from leadership” about the questions raised and that no meeting has been scheduled to discuss the evident organizational problems.
“You need to get in front of this,” he said. “We need to get together and right this ship — not in August, not in December, now.”
The Regional Planning Board was set up nearly 50 years ago to help the counties of Warren, Washington, Hamilton, Essex and Clinton with planning and grant funding, and it operates a revolving loan fund for “high-risk” businesses that can’t get bank funding. Supervisors, treasurers and non-elected members from the counties sit on the Regional Planning Board.
Questions have been raised about that loan fund’s losses, loans to politically connected businesses and business owners, procedural issues with loan approval and an apparent lack of transparency when discrepancies were noted.
Many of those same questions were raised again Thursday, and few answers were offered. In fact, members of the loan committee said after the meeting, they had questions and issues they were not aware of and one of the members, former Easton Supervisor R. Harry Booth, said he was “a little bit embarrassed of being here.”
Booth, former chairman of the Washington County Board of Supervisors and a 25-year member of the Regional Planning Board, offered the most impassioned defense of the loan fund and its review committee. He said he reviewed loan applications and made sure applicants met requirements and that the loans would help employment and be for the “good” of the community.
He said the fund started with $3 million and was self-sufficient to the point that nearly $10 million had been loaned out.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do for our region,” he said.
“There is accountability,” added loan fund committee member Tori Riley, vice president of Saratoga Economic Development Corp. “I’m very proud of what we do; we do not take it lightly.”
Supervisors from Warren and Washington counties, though, pointed out the loan committee was not operating by its bylaws, as it did not have 10 members or two members from each county and did not have enough voting members for a quorum or officers on the committee.
Six members would be needed for a quorum on a body of 10 members, and the committee only has five voting members.
“There are some serious issues about how you conduct meetings, and we’re talking about money,” said Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff, who has pushed for abolishing the Regional Planning Board.
At one point, Haff asked loan committee members if they had reviewed their bylaws, and none responded. Haff said “You are kidding me,” and Riley said that she had reviewed them.
Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks, who was appointed last month as a Washington County representative to the Regional Planning Board, asked who the chairman of the loan committee was, and there was no response.
“It’s a governance issue,” Hicks said.
Putnam Supervisor John LaPointe was Regional Planning Board chairman until he was not re-appointed to the board last month amid questions about loans to his daughter for a beauty salon. He was not removed from the loan committee, although Young said he thought LaPointe had been removed from it.
Members of the loan committee are separate from the Regional Planning Board, which is supposed to have 30 representatives.
LaPointe did not attend the meeting.
Young said that nearly half of the loan committee seats were vacant was a “process of attrition.”
Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty said his review of documents for four business loans showed that procedures were violated and paperwork was not in order. Only one seemed to meet all of the criteria.
Young spoke sparingly during the meeting, although he did provide a “loan aging report” to county supervisors as requested. He told supervisors there were 53 active loans, totaling $4.7 million, with $3.4 million of that still to be collected.
The two months of controversy about the agency’s operations apparently has not resonated with members and elected officials from Hamilton, Essex and Clinton counties, who have not attended the numerous meetings held in Warren and Washington counties to discuss the concerns. Hamilton County Treasurer Beth Hunt, who sits on the loan committee, was in attendance Thursday.
Questions about the Regional Planning Board were raised after it was determined that some of the money allegedly stolen by David Decker, former director of Lake George Watershed Coalition, had come through a check issued by the Regional Planning Board.
The state Comptroller's Office has notified the Regional Planning Board that it plans an audit.