By Mark Scheer
A familiar face will once again lead the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency's Board of Directors.
During the board's annual organizational meeting on Monday, members agreed to restore Henry Sloma to the role of chairman.
Sloma replaces former Chairman Michael Tucker, who stepped down from the board last month as part of his decision to resign as mayor of the City of Lockport.
Sloma previously served for as board chairman from April 2005 through January 2013 before submitting his resignation. The Niagara County Legislature reappointed Sloma to the board earlier this year.
In accepting the chairmanship on Monday, Sloma thanked his colleagues for showing confidence in him. He praised members of the board's governance committee for taking steps in recent months to adopt a formal policy on requiring companies receiving incentives through the agency to hire local labor whenever possible.
"Hopefully, my years of experience here will be helpful going forward," Sloma said.
Sloma also praised Tucker for his service to the board, suggesting the agency send a formal letter to the former mayor thanking him for his service.
"He was always a valued member because he wasn't afraid to speak up and he always voted his conscience and we hope all of our board members can do that," Sloma said.
The board also elected Stephen Brady as first vice chair, Mark Onesi as second vice chair, Deanna Alterio Brennan as secretary, Kevin McCabe as assistant secretary and Samuel Ferraro as treasurer.
Following the meeting, Sloma acknowledged a private business partnership with Jerald Wolfgang, the newest appointee to the NCIDA's nine-member board. The legislature appointed Wolfgang to the board earlier this month.
Sloma and Wolfgang are part of a group that owns Medical Realty Partnership, a local company that operates a rental property at 3018 Military Road.
NCIDA Attorney Mark Gabriele said agency policies do not bar members of the board from being partners in the same private business. He said the only time such a relationship might be an issue would be on an occasion when the board would be asked to consider business dealing directly with the company itself.
Sloma characterized the business as "passive" in nature and said it deals solely with the collection of rent and operation of the Military Road building. He did not view the relationship as an issue for the board moving forward. He said he would publicly declare a conflict and abstain from any sort of board action if a matter involving Medical Realty Partnership came before the board at some point in the future.
"There is no conflict," he said. "If there were a conflict, I would announce it and deal with it accordingly."
Wolfgang did not attend Monday's meeting. Gabriele said he was vacationing and unable to attend.
In other matters, the board:
• Discussed a pair of dissenting opinions expressed by an unidentified board member as part of a confidential self evaluation of the board and committee performance as required by the state authorities budget office.
The survey covered the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2013 and covering the IDA and its component entities, the Niagara County Development Corp. and the Niagara Area Development Corp.
The unidentified member checked "disagree" on an item asking if the board met to review and approve all documents and reports prior to public release and is confident that the information presented is accurate and complete. On another item, a board member disagreed when asked if individual members felt "empowered" to delay votes, defer agenda items or table actions if they felt additional information or discussion was required.
The state requires the board to discuss any items in which there is disagreement.
Gabriele described both criteria on the survey as somewhat "problematic."
On the first matter, he noted that, under state open government rules, it is "almost impossible" and often impractical for board members to be called together to discuss documents prior to public release. He noted that any such meeting involving a majority of the board would require advance notification of the meeting to the press and the public, creating the potential for a "never-ending circle" of meetings.
He also suggested that all documents are made available to board members prior to meetings and as they are requested.
On the second matter, Gabriele noted that board actions are governed by agency by-laws and Robert's Rules of Order, a set of procedures for voting and debate widely used by governmental bodies.
As such, Gabriele suggested it is not possible for any single member to delay a vote, defer an agenda item or table an action as the rules require one member to make a motion, another member to second the motion for discussion by the full board and a vote by the board majority to take whatever action is being considered.
"There's actually no individual board member that's empowered to delay anything on the board," he said.
Board member Stephen Brady, who chairs the IDA's governance committee, said committee members felt both items merited additional discussion, but no formal action. Brady said he was confident that if any board member had an issue with the agency's practices moving forward, they would "speak up if they had any issues or concerns."
"I don't see any shrinking violets on this board," he said.