Economic Development Decision Tied to Concerns Regarding Inadequate Transparency and Accountability

(Ballston Spa, NY)  Responding to a press release issued today by the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), the Board of Supervisors’ Standing Committee on Economic Development elaborated on the reasons behind its recommendation to end the County’s 35-year affiliation with SEDC.  The Committee’s goal is to create a more productive and robust economic development effort in Saratoga County.  SEDC has transformed into an organization with multiple missions, and the Board believes that advancing the economic development interests of the entire county is no longer SEDC’s sole focus.

The Economic Development Committee also cited its concerns that SEDC has not provided a level of transparency that is expected of an entity funded in part by taxpayers.  The Committee cited SEDC’s unwillingness to accommodate the Board of Supervisors’ request for an elected Supervisor to be seated on the SEDC Board.  This request was intended to directly provide the Board with more adequate information regarding SEDC’s activities, which are funded at a substantial level through public dollars.

“The Board of Supervisors has acted responsibly in making reasonable requests from SEDC for better access to information regarding its publicly funded activities,” said Supervisor John E. Lawler, Chairman of the Economic Development Committee.  “We are no longer confident that we have adequate information to assess whether SEDC’s activities constitute an effective use of taxpayer dollars.  As elected representatives, it is our responsibility to demand transparency and accountability from SEDC and, for that matter, from any other vendor with whom the County conducts business.  SEDC unfortunately refused a reasonable compromise and forced us to sever our relationship.  Their desire to operate under a cloak of secrecy while spending public money is unacceptable.”

In preventing elected officials from serving on its Board of Directors, SEDC has cited a legal opinion claiming that doing so “could trigger sunshine laws” and jeopardize the confidentiality of sensitive negotiations.  Not only is this conclusion at odds with the experience of successful economic development entities whose activities are transparent to the public and subject to disclosure laws, but SEDC has also repeatedly failed, when asked, to produce a copy of the legal opinion.  Based on these actions by SEDC, the Board was left with little choice but to terminate the relationship.

Since beginning its relationship with SEDC in 1978, the Board of Supervisors has appropriated more than $7 million of taxpayer funds to pay for marketing services contracted with SEDC.  While that partnership has produced some notable successes, according to their own statistics SEDC’s activities have created fewer than 650 jobs since 2008, exclusive of Global Foundries.

“The public deserves to have confidence that the County’s economic development program is suited to the new challenges and opportunities we face,” Chairman Lawler said.  “The Economic Development Committee’s goal is to create a marketing initiative which is solely dedicated to economic development in Saratoga County, aligns with the Board of Supervisors’ strategic vision, and is transparent and accountable to County residents.”