In an email circulated to his Board colleagues last week, Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin called for the resignation of David Crawford, President of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC).
Crawford’s engineering and planning firm, Crawford & Associates, is handling permitting and engineering work for Ginsberg’s Foods’ proposal for a 300,000-square-foot facility in Ghent and Claverack, which has received substantial financial and marketing support from CEDC.
David Ginsberg preceded Crawford as President of CEDC, remaining on its Board (according to its minutes) until October 2013, well after the agency had decided to apply for $1.5 million in funding for the Ginsberg project. Ginsberg’s Food also has had a $400,000, 1%-interest loan from CEDC; the loans term overlapped the tenures of both Ginsberg and Crawford. Finally, CEDC has come under fire for voting to give 33 acres of land to Ginsberg’s for just $1.
Bassin’s email calling for Crawford’s resignation treats the controversy about the Ginsberg’s project as mostly a perception problem needing a cosmetic fix, writing that
The negative reactions to the Ginsberg project seem to be related to the apparent conflicts of interest associated with Mr. Ginsberg’s past role on the CEDC board, and Mr. Crawford's current role as both chair of the CEDC Board and president of the engineering firm advising Mr. Ginsberg on the project.
In this context, the proposal from CEDC to sell the 33 acres for $1 and the 1% $400,000 loan made years ago to Ginsberg's has triggered ethics and legal concerns, and has exposed the project to additional scrutiny.
Chairman Grattan’s letter suggesting CEDC repay the County for the $114,000 County cost of the 33 acres, and his decision to chair a special committee to review the relationship between the County and CEDC, are steps in the right direction, but do not go far enough to clear the air surrounding this project.
While CEDC Executive Director Ken Flood has claimed that Crawford stayed out of all votes and discussions about the Ginsberg’s project, the agency’s minutes suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, CEDC has rebuffed a written request from Hilldale Supervisor Art Baer that CEDC provide a legal opinion verifying that the $1 transaction meets ethical muster.
In addition to having Crawford resign, Bassin proposes two additional steps:
- CEDC responds to Supervisor Bear’s [sic—Baer] request for an opinion letter stating the proposed sale of the 33 acres for $1 is consistent with NYS legal and ethical standards, and the ethical standards of the CEDC.
- CEDC requests Mr. Ginsberg to pay the full fair market value of the 33 acres.
Opposition to the land deal and concern about an additional $660,000 property tax break pending before the County Industrial Development Agency has spread from neighbors, taxpayers, citizens organizations and independent news sites to the editorial boards of both of the County’s print newspapers, The Register-Star and Columbia Paper.
Opposition has also come from two neighboring farms, whose owners have apparently filed an Article 78 against the Ghent and Claverack Planning Boards.
As the issue has heated up, BOS chair Pat Grattan has called for the company to reimburse the County for its land purchase at the 1997 price of $109,950 (plus related costs), which would amount to only 40% of the land’s current appraised and assessed values. Another recent applicant to CEDC, a local farm, was required to borrow $50,000 for a piece of land nearly six times smaller than the Ginsberg’s plot, and pay 10% interest on the loan.
Members of the Ginsberg clan have told this site and other sources that they do not intend to pay for the land, harrumphing that opposition to the project will not diminish even if they do.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors does not directly control CEDC. But several Supervisors serve as trustees, and the bulk of its funding comes from the County.