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QUEENSBURY — The Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board has been operating in violation of its bylaws and governmental rules regarding meeting quorums for years, which could make its actions during the period in question illegal, records show.

The board’s director acknowledged Thursday that its loan committee had only six members over the past few years, when bylaws call for it to have 10 as well as representatives of each of the five counties it represents.

So when it approved loans with fewer than all members present, as apparently happened with at least a handful of loans that have been analyzed by Warren and Washington counties supervisors, it appeared those loans were not properly awarded.

Supervisors also provided documents Thursday that showed the board operating with fewer than 30 members in recent years, and with members who did not have voting power casting votes and assigning proxies for their votes. The organization is supposed to be made up of six members each from Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Hamilton and Essex counties, three of them elected officials from each county, with the counties financially supporting it.

The new information about the Lake George-based Regional Planning Board came out of a wide-ranging meeting Thursday involving supervisors from Warren and Washington counties that focused mostly on questions regarding the agency’s actions and its revolving loan fund, but also on obvious issues with its administration and operation.

The Regional Planning Board operates a regional development corporation that loans money to “high risk” businesses. Some of the low-interest loans have been questioned by supervisors and other county officials, as relatives of some elected officials received tens of thousands of dollars, and critics claim the default and delinquency rates on the loans are high.

The Regional Planning Board’s director, Walter Young, brought the organization’s accountant and auditor to answer questions about its revolving loan fund, but it seemed like many supervisors had just as many, if not more, questions about the agency’s actions after the meeting ended.

‘Apple cart’

Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff said some Regional Planning Board documents he was provided in recent weeks regarding show that vote proxies appeared to be forged, and that the planning board and that the loan committee’s actions “were not proper.”

He said he believed that the organization did not replace members on the loan committee because “You don’t want to upset the apple cart.”

Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Michael Wild said he had “big concerns about leadership and accountability” within the Regional Planning Board, while Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty said he had many questions about an apparent failure by the Regional Planning Board to follow basic organizational rules.

“The loan committee did not follow their own requirements, and I find that disturbing,” Beaty said.

In particular, he pointed to the loan committee not having openings filled, and seemingly not having a quorum at times.

Young, though, said no additional members were sought because the six people on it seemed to represent a cross section of people from the community. He said all of the loans went through the same vetting process, and his office works with those who are behind on payments to avoid default, and the committee believed it had a quorum when voting.

While Young has said he had no involvement in the loan process, Beaty said he had reviewed loan application documents for one loan in which Young wrote a letter recommending it be approved, after two of five members on the loan committee raised questions about it. He said he found that “disturbing” as well.

That loan was ultimately awarded to the daughter of Putnam Supervisor John LaPointe, who was chairman of the Regional Planning Board until last week and a member of the loan committee. LaPointe has said he recused himself from the discussions, as his daughter received two loans amounting to $70,000 to open a beauty salon that has yet to open.

LaPointe was removed from the Regional Planning Board last week amid questions about the loan, though he remains on the loan committee.

Young told supervisors that $16 million has been loaned to businesses since the loan fund’s inception, and only 4.85 percent of that was written off as uncollectible. Critics, though, pointed out that $1.26 million in loans had late payments or were delinquent in the most recent audit.

Young said the loan fund is audited annually.

Karl Newton, a representative of auditor Marvin & Co., acknowledged the audits have been conducted, but when pressed acknowledged that the audits were based on documentation provided by the Regional Planning Board and not independently verified, or give any opinions on “internal controls.”

Dissolution

Haff said he plans to introduce a resolution at the May 18 Washington County Board of Supervisors meeting seeking to have his county pull away from the organization as well as its dissolution, spelling out where its assets and subsidiary organizations would go. One organization it oversees is the Adirondack Glens Falls Transportation Council, which supervisors said could instead be overseen by local counties.

“Cut them free, wish them good luck and see how quickly they fold up their tent,” Haff said of the Regional Planning Board.

Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer handed out an identical resolution Thursday seeking to get Warren County out of the organization as well, though she said later Thursday that she did not plan to introduce it at the May 15 meeting of the full Board of Supervisors as she and her colleagues seek more information.

Questions about the agency popped up in recent months when Queensbury resident and government watchdog Travis Whitehead questioned its link to the case against former Lake George Watershed Coalition Director David Decker, who faces criminal charges for allegedly stealing nearly $170,000 of coalition funds. Haff had also questioned why the Regional Planning Board was asking Washington County for more money.

County administrators, attorneys and supervisors have held conference calls in recent days regarding the Regional Planning Board questions. The counties have requested reams of documents related to recent operations of the Regional Planning Board, which are being accumulated by Washington County Attorney Roger Wickes to be distributed to officials in all five counties.

Young said Thursday he had not seen that request, though Washington County officials said it was sent via registered mail.

The state Comptroller’s Office notified the Regional Planning Board last week that it plans to audit it, and Authorities Budget Office has said it has directed the organization to comply.

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reporter - crimes & courts, public safety and Warren County government

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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