LAKE GEORGE — When 2018 began, few in local government knew what the Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board was, or did.
But questions raised by some local elected officials and a government watchdog led to the retirement of its executive director, ousters of several of its other longtime leaders and a temporary shutdown of its loan funds.
The end result was a host of changes for the leaner organization with new rules and policies, awaiting the results of a state audit.
The turmoil came to a head in June when the organization’s executive director, Walter Young, retired for good. He had already retired years earlier, then took a part-time job as the executive director to receive pension and salary, a legal process known as “double-dipping.”
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The Regional Planning Board has provided planning assistance to communities, assisted communities with environmental projects and operated a revolving business loan fund for nearly five decades from an office in the village of Lake George. It has representatives from Warren, Washington, Essex, Hamilton and Clinton counties, and provides assistance with grants and funding for these counties, with the counties helping pay the Regional Planning Board’s operating costs.
Concerns about the agency’s operations were made public in March, when Queensbury resident Travis Whitehead questioned losses in the Regional Planning Board’s loan fund. There were also concerns about who was receiving loans. A number of loans seemed to go to relatives of elected officials, including a woman who was related to two of the agency’s longtime leaders, and there appeared to be little oversight or involvement from elected officials who were appointed to the board.
Elected officials from Washington and Warren counties took the lead in figuring out what was being done, and sweeping changes have occurred in the months since, with Young’s second-in-command, Beth Gilles, tapped as director. A loan fund that had been suspended amid questions has been reinstated, and results of the state Comptroller’s Office audit are expected in 2019.