Learning to row together

Ours is an age, it seems, in which everything most people learn about politics seems only to confirm what they already think they know. American lives are increasingly characterized by ideological uniformity and partisan antipathy. Pew Research Center studies have found these divisions greatest among those most engaged and active in the political process. According to a startling recent article in the Harvard Business Review, partisanship influences economic behavior even when it is costly. Partisanship is paramount, cooperation secondary.

The current unresolved Washington negotiations over border security provide a model of how things work and perhaps a way in which compromise can still be possible. Seventeen national legislators — Democrats and Republicans, senators and congresspersons, leaders and backbenchers — are trying to reach agreement on funding border issues. Compromise is never easy. 

Talking amongst themselves, they identify commonalities. Then Donald Trump says that the conferees are wasting their time if they’re not talking about a wall. Nancy Pelosi responds that there will be no funding for a wall, period. And the various conferees insist there can be no agreement without the active assent of their leaders. 

Advertisement

No one said it was going to be easy. Will there be another federal government shutdown?

To find a toxic political situation we don’t have to go down to Washington. Kingston is much closer.

On the one side you have the county executive’s office and some county legislators. On the other you find the majority of Ulster County’s Industrial Development Agency and its allies in the legislature and elsewhere. These people don’t like each other. 

No longer the $50,000-a-year administrator of the UCIDA, the county’s Office of Economic Development has castigated the agency’s leadership for a dalliance with Galileo Technology Group, led by veteran entrepreneurial business executive Vincent Cozzolino and heavily involved with the Orange County IDA. The Ulster IDA became interested in starting an Accelerator Without Walls (AWOW) program in cooperation with Galileo in Ulster County.

Failing to renew its contract for administrative services and displeased with the Ulster IDA’s direction, the Office of Economic Development headed by Suzanne Holt cut off support services to the UCIDA in December and January. The county department mistrusted both Galileo, which was willing to provide those services on an interim basis, and the new IDA leadership, which was willing to offer them to Galileo. 

At the January 30 IDA board meeting, Agency chair Randall Leverette complained about Ulster County’s lack of professionalism throughout the transition experience. He claimed “even a third-party contractor would have performed [the tasks involved] out of a sense of duty, despite contractual difference[s].” IDA audit committee chair Rick Jones was even harsher in condemning the abrupt interruption of IDA access to the county website, terming the action “vile and Orwellian.”

Saugerties-based Ceres Technologies has spent $2.5 million of its own money and has been awarded $1.125 million in state and Central Hudson money to consolidate operations at TechCity and to expand its 180-person workforce (currently 140 in Saugerties and 40 in a subsidiary in Rhinebeck). Making the case at the IDA meeting for an $88,000 award either in the form of a loan or a contract-for-services grant was Dennis Brady, chief executive of metal fabricator North Park Metalworks. Brady read a letter from his brother, Ceres CEO Kevin Brady. The jobs Ceres promises to retain and add to are for the most part high-paying manufacturing positions, with benefits and medical coverage. If the IDA didn’t help, Ceres would have to rethink its locational situation.

Might other TechCity obstacles come up which would require more money? “We think we’ve uncovered just about everything by now,” responded Dennis Brady. 

“Famous last words,” muttered an IDA board member sotto voce. It was unlikely Ceres would walk away over failing to get an additional $100,000, but management has to be willing to pull the plug at some point. 

The agency members agreed by a 6-0-1 vote on a motion of $88,000 to pay for electrical wiring inside the building Ceres is leasing from TechCity. “We’re willing to do this,” said Leverette. “We’re willing to help.” 

Because several of his relatives work for the company, member Paul Andreassen abstained from the voting.

What was not discussed at the meeting but was known to some but perhaps not all the IDA members was that the very same Galileo Technology CEO Cozzolino is or was an executive vice president of Ceres Technologies and the employer at Galileo of Heather Brady Rieker, daughter of Kevin Brady and niece of Dennis Brady. Heather Brady, who excused herself from the room when her uncle made his presentation, has been working for Galileo on Accelerator Without Walls projects in Orange County. Galileo is now hoping to start up a couple of AWOW facilities in Ellenville and Catskill.

Several days after the IDA session, Cozzolino assured Daily Freeman reporter Bill Kemble that his own involvement with the Ulster IDA would be limited to a week or two. 

The timing of the Ceres application can only add to the suspicion with which Galileo is regarded by the anti-IDA-leadership faction of Ulster County political life. On its face, however, the basic situation is crystal-clear. If pursued, the Ceres application would give a significant boost to one of the county’s larger employers with a high potential for continued job growth. Ulster town supervisor James Quigley, himself no stranger to county politics, would very much like to see Ceres succeed in its move to his town.

The situation is now precarious, not only for Ceres and the IDA but also for the cause of Ulster County economic development. 

Next to the door inside the conference room in which the IDA shenanigans were taking place last Wednesday morning sat three county legislators. Closest to the door was Hector Rodriguez, new chair of the legislature’s Economic Development, Tourism, Housing and Planning Committee, who made clear the county’s interest in keeping economic development a high priority. Next to him was Lynn Archer, new chairperson of the Ways and Means Committee, responsible for the legislature’s say on all budgetary matters. And sitting next to Archer was Jim Maloney, previous holder under the Republicans of the committee chairmanship Democrat Rodriguez now will hold.

The three legislators were there to draw their own conclusions about the performance of the two most significant agencies in the arena of Ulster County economic development, the Office of Economic Development and the Industrial Development Agency. Perhaps they might be considering what kind of intervention might prove salutary. 

The present contrast in resources between the two entities is notable. The OED has a staff of four and a payroll of about $275,000 a year, plus support from other county departments. The IDA is being managed by an all-volunteer seven-person board whose chair, Randall Leverette, and audit committee head, Rick Jones, have been toiling heroically to keep up with the agency’s administrative responsibilities. The IDA’s main asset is about $700,000 in the bank; it gets its funding from a one percent fee on projects it has induced.

Political partisanship has its rightful place, but in the field of economic development at the present time it does not serve Ulster County well. It would be a positive achievement if the IDA were able to avoid undue partisanship in its own discussions through patient internal communication. Though the seven IDA members squabble about their varying views, they still seem to be listening to each other, not easy in a confused and rapidly changing environment. The local IDA needs to continue to be a board-run organization. The seven members are all in the same boat. It’s important that they row as a team.

Post Your Thoughts