Stark contradiction in Flood and Crawford statements
Recently-circulated minutes of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) inadvertantly expose the agency’s growing perception problem regarding conflicts-of-interest among its members and staff.
Scrutiny has focused on CEDC Board President David Crawford’s dual role as the principal of Crawford & Associates Engineering (which is the engineering firm for the Ginsberg’s Foods expansion project along the border of Ghent and Claverack), as well as former Board President David Ginsberg’s influence.
Approved at yesterday’s Board meeting, the minutes for its previous August 26th gathering quote Executive Director Kenneth J. Flood on the topic of Crawford’s participation on the Ginsberg $1.5 million grant and $1 land deal:
“Mr. Flood stated to the best of his knowledge, Mr. Crawford had not taken part in any discussion or vote regarding the Ginsberg’s project.”
However, the following pages of the same minutes document examples of Crawford participating in such discussions.
In a Board debate about the hiring of Behan Communications to assist with p.r. for the Ginsberg project and to improve CEDC’s image, the minutes state:
“Mr. Crawford gave the Ginsberg’s project as an example, noting the public relations had room for improvement.”
Earlier minutes also show Crawford on the record about Ginsberg’s during Board meetings. For example, CEDC’s June 2014 minutes state that
“Mr. Crawford noted that Ginsberg’s was well on their way to completion. He noted Behan could use Ginsberg’s as a CEDC accomplishment.”
Behan Communications, by the way, is also the p.r. company for TCI of NY, the PCB-processor whose Ghent facility exploded two summers ago, forcing County residents to stay inside for much of a summer day. Crawford’s engineering firm also likewise worked for TCI. Other Board members not directly connected to Ginsberg’s, such as former Independent publisher Tony Jones, have questioned the $10,000 retainer of Behan, which was intially greenlighted—reportedly by Flood and Crawford—without Board approval.
Later, the minutes’ account of a discussion of the conflict-of-interest question raised by Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer again cites Crawford participating in a matter related to Ginsberg’s. Development czar Flood reported that
“Supervisor [Baer] had not backed down from his request for a formal legal opinion about the land transaction as well as a statement stating there was no conflict of interest by any Board member. Mr. Crawford stated this was all due to politics.”
Meeting in private, the minutes further state that the $1 sale to Ginsberg’s of 33 acres acquired by the County for $109,500 had been voted upon by the CEDC Executive Committee. After the meeting, this site was told by Board member Mary Bartolotta that the Executive Committee includes Crawford.
(Though it involves more than two members of a public body as defined in New York State Open Meetings Law, the Executive Committee does not provide notice of its meetings, and no minutes of its meetings are taken, according to a Board member speaking on condition of anonymity. As a result, there is no known record of whether Crawford participated in the above-mentioned Executive Committee discussion and vote.)
Ginsberg’s Food co-owner David Ginsberg was formerly the President of CEDC until 2010, remaining as a Board member until just two months before the application submitted by CEDC was approved by the Cuomo administration.
As also reported here, a source familiar with the process for hiring Ken Flood says that Ginsberg took the lead on the hiring process. At minimum, there appears to have been an overlap between the last year of his Board Presidency and the hiring of Flood as CEDC director. Flood has since been at the forefront of promoting and securing grant funding, tax incentives, and other benefits for Ginsberg’s Foods.
The conflict of interest issues raised by Baer, which the Executive Committee and its attorney have declined to address, clearly do not appear to come as surprise to CEDC members. The minutes of its October 2013 meeting reported that:
“Mr. Flood stated he had to hire a consultant to write the expedited application in order to submit it on time to have the [Ginsberg] project reviewed... Ms. Bartolotta asked it to be clarified in the formal meeting minutes that David Ginsberg of Ginsberg’s Foods had resigned in the beginning of the month.”
The May 2014 minutes likewise record Crawford as actively promoting the hiring of Behan by CEDC to assist Ginsberg’s, which originally was going to carry the cost of public relations itself. Crawford explicitly tied the image of the Board and Ginsberg’s together:
“Mr. Crawford stated that he and Mr. Bohnsack had met with Ginsbergs at the beginning of their project to encourage them to hire a public relations firm [to] head off any issues. He stated Ginsbergs had stated they would do their public relations in house. Mr. Crawford stated he was now encouraging CEDC to hire a public relations firm to get CEDC’s mission out to the public... He stated this should include the message about Ginsberg’s. ... Several board members cautioned against using the public relations company for only Ginsberg’s, noting it should be iused for the advancement of CEDC. Mr. Crawford asked for a motion to obtain a proposal from Behan Communications not to exceed $10,000.
The May minutes then state that “Mr. Fingar made the motion, which was seconded by Colinn Stair and passed unanimously.” No absentions were noted in the minutes, by either Crawford or anyone else.
Subsequent minutes show that staff of CEDC went ahead and signed a contract with Behan before the Board ever saw a proposal. By July, Crawford was backtracking on his original reason for hiring Behand, now claiming in that month’s minutes that “the firm had been hired to do general public relations and not specifically for Ginsberg’s.”
(NOTE: The minutes quoted above were all unanimously approved by the full Board, which includes Crawford et al. assuming they were in attendance.)