Niagara Gazette

Opinion

May 12, 2014

CITY DESK: Waiting on Niagara County

For three-plus months now I’ve been trying to get my hands on financial disclosures I thought members of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency’s Board of Directors were expected to file annually with the county board of ethics.

In response to my initial freedom of information request back in January, NCIDA attorney Mark Gabriele directed me to another office, saying the agency does not have statements for the board “since said disclosures are on file with the Niagara County Board of Ethics.”

Assistant Niagara County attorney John Sansone has since handled my initial request to county FOIL officer and Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin. At first, the county told me it needed more time to gather the information. After I appealed weeks later, based on the advice of the state’s Committee on Open Government, Sansone told me last week that only two such statements exist for individuals with ties to the NCIDA — Executive Director Sam Ferraro and Deputy Commissioner of Business Development Michael Casale. 

Sansone maintains that because the IDA was “not created by the Niagara County Legislature,” the remaining members of the IDA board are “not required” by the county’s policy to file financial disclosure statements.

He claims their records are “exempt” from public disclosure under Public Officer’s Law 87 (2) (b) and (g). 

Bob Freeman, the executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, called that assessment “unlawful and wrong,” but more on that later. 

Let’s deal with perhaps the most compelling part of this back-and-forth with the county’s assistant attorney which is the admission that members of the NCIDA board of directors — who are responsible for doling out lucrative tax breaks to area businesses — are not being required to file paperwork describing their own personal investments or business ties. 

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