LAKE GEORGE — The Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board began the process of overhauling its operations Tuesday during its first meeting in seven months, appointing a new chairman and freezing its loan fund temporarily as new members took control of the much-criticized organization.
The board also set up a committee to revise its bylaws and recommended its development arm register with the state as it deals with questions about its operations and revolving business loan fund.
“We need to stop playing the blame game and start fixing things,” said Fort Ann Supervisor Rich Moore.
Hampton Supervisor David O’Brien was unanimously voted to chair the organization. The former chairman, Putnam Supervisor John LaPointe, was not re-appointed to the board, and vice chairman Michael Diskin directed Tuesday’s meeting until O’Brien was voted in.
The Regional Planning Board’s voting members, with legal counsel, also met in a closed-door executive session to discuss the organization’s personnel, but took no action when returning to open session after more than a half-hour.
The loan fund will halt taking applications indefinitely until the organization’s new leadership is satisfied that it can resume.
“Enough questions have been raised. I think a temporary halt or freeze is advised,” Bolton Supervisor Ronald Conover, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and a non-voting member of the Regional Planning Board, said of the loan fund.
The board set up a five-member committee to review and potentially revise its operational bylaws, with O’Brien, Queensbury Supervisor John Strough, Essex Supervisor Ron Jackson, Clinton County Legislator Peter Keenan and Christy Wilt, Hamilton County's economic development director.
The 30-member board had 19 members attend the meeting, despite the controversy that has swirled for the past three months over the loan fund for high-risk businesses it oversees that has had questionable losses and apparently made loans in violation of its regulations to politically connected business owners.
In response to the concerns that have been raised, the state Comptroller’s Office has advised the Regional Planning Board that it plans an audit, and the state Authorities Budget Office has notified it that it will require the loan fund to register with the state.
Walter Young, director of the Regional Planning Board, said at Tuesday’s meeting that the organization could request a waiver of that requirement, but members strongly recommended that the waiver not be sought.
“Especially now, more than ever, transparency is important and we should be reporting” to the state, said Washington County Treasurer Al Nolette.
The board has typically met twice a year, but Young agreed “we should meet on a more regular basis.”
It was made fairly clear to the the Regional Planning Board’s management early in the meeting that the status quo was not going to be suitable to new members.
They refused to approve the minutes from the last meeting, which occurred in December, several saying they could not approve them without reviewing them, and the board did not have a quorum to pass the minutes.
Board members also corrected a number of point-of-order errors that occurred during the meeting.
Issues with the agency have led to some supervisors in Washington and Warren counties calling for dissolution of it, though boards of supervisors in both counties held off moving forward with that request.