Who Do You Work For? (Updated)

Tourism bureau says it doesn’t answer to legislature

By Holly Crocco

After introducing the newly hired executive director of the Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau to county lawmakers during the March 16 Economic Development Committee meeting, acting executive director Frank Smith brought legislators up to speed on where the department stands financially.

Smith was made acting director more than a year ago after Libby Pataki resigned following allegations that neither the nonprofit Visitors’ Bureau nor another nonprofit she set up without the legislature’s knowledge – both of which paid her salaries – had functioning boards, as required by state law. It is not clear if Smith, who earns $50,000 annually, will continue to work at the bureau.

Smith told legislators that in addition to the $60,000 in funds the bureau receives from the state as part of its “I Love New York” campaign – money matched by the county that must be spent outside Putnam – the department relies on about $180,000 from the county.

At the end of 2016, the legislature voted to release only part of its funding to the bureau. Since that time, two members of the six-member volunteer board, Philip Tomach of Carmel and Deborah Walker of Cold Spring, have left. Putnam County legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, said Tolmach had resigned after applying for the executive director position and Walker had job demands that made contributing to the board difficult. She said the board planned to add two members, including Laura Lee Holmbo of Cold Spring, the former marketing director for The Valley Table.

Molloy (center) chairs the board; Tomach (lower left) and Walker (top middle) have left. (File photos by L.S. Armstrong)

Smith told lawmakers on March 16 that the Visitors’ Bureau will run out of funds by the end of April if the legislature doesn’t release the remaining $100,000. He said the funds pay the operational expenses associated with the department, including salaries, insurance, taxes and supplies.

Matters became heated when Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) expressed disappointment over how the bureau has been run since Pataki left, saying she has been unable to reach anyone in the office to answer questions about its finances.

“Now that Bruce [Conklin, the new executive director] is here on a full-time basis, we have a presence in the office throughout the entire day,” countered Smith, who confirmed that an accountant has been hired and that the county is in compliance with state requirements.

However, when Smith said he had been advised by legal counsel not to answer questions about the accounting agency the bureau used during its restructuring, LoBue said he is required to report to the legislature.

“You work for me; you work for us,” said LoBue. “We appropriate your budget.”

“Under the advice of counsel, I am not answering that question,” Smith again replied.

LoBue asked Smith if he was still collecting a $50,000 salary, which Smith confirmed.

Legislator Dini LoBue (file photo by Ross Corsair)

Barney Molloy, who chairs the four-member tourism board, came to the Smith’s defense. He said the Visitors’ Bureau is a nonprofit organization that has a contract with and reports to County Executive MaryEllen Odell, not the legislature. “I’m afraid you need to go back and check your records,” he told LoBue. “We are here as a courtesy at the request of the county executive to report on the matching grants appointment. It is not an open-ended fishing expedition.”

LoBue begged to differ.

“You are not here at the request of the county executive; you are here at the request of the chairwoman of the committee,” she said to Molloy. “I know you feel very uppity tonight, but I don’t work for you – you don’t question me, I question you.”

She then called for Molloy’s removal from the Visitors’ Bureau board, citing his arrest in Cold Spring in February on petit larceny charges for allegedly stealing $10 worth of newspapers from bundles outside a coffee shop. (The case is ongoing; Molloy has pleaded not guilty.)

“Aren’t you in court right now?” LoBue asked. “You shouldn’t even be here. He should be removed as president. It’s a disgrace.”

The Other Tourism Bureau

The state Attorney General’s office says its investigation of a nonprofit created by former Putnam County tourism director Libby Pataki has ended.

Pataki, who resigned a year ago as head of the Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau amidst a probe by the attorney general, agreed in June 2016 to dissolve the Putnam Tourism Corp. She had formed the corporation in 2012 while serving as executive director of the Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau. It paid her $110,000 over the next two years while the nonprofit Visitors’ Bureau paid her $194,000 from funds provided by the county. Neither organization appeared to have a functioning board of directors, as required by state law.

The Putnam Tourism Corp. had about $8,000 as of December 2015, according to its most recent federal tax filing. (Pataki received no salary in 2015, during which she took a leave of absence while her husband, former New York Gov. George Pataki, ran for president, but her assistant, Katie DeMarco, earned $50,000.) The remaining funds likely were used at the dissolution to pay legal and accounting fees.

The attorney general launched an investigation of the Putnam Tourism Corp. in February 2016 and met with Interim Director Frank Smith soon after to discuss creating a new board for the Visitors’ Bureau.

Other legislators chimed in.

“As the chairwoman of the legislature, you’re out of order,” said Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson), to LoBue. “It’s inappropriate and should not be tolerated.”

County Attorney Jennifer Bumgarner clarified that the Visitor’s Bureau has a contract with Putnam County, which includes the legislature, that is executed by the county executive.

However, she said it’s not clear if the bureau is subject to the state Freedom of Information Law that would require it to disclose certain information to lawmakers. “An argument can be made either way,” she said. “In the past, based upon the characteristics of the organization, it has been our opinion that they are not subject to FOIL.”

LoBue asked Bumgarner to seek an advisory opinion from the state Committee on Open Government. However, when The Current filed FOIL requests on March 20 with the county clerk concerning the Visitor’s Bureau, the newspaper was told for the first time that “it has been determined [by the county law department] that the Putnam County Visitor’s Bureau is not a ‘county agency’ subject to FOIL.”

The county law department did not respond to a request to explain its ruling. The Visitors’ Bureau was incorporated in 1998.

The discussion is expected to continue at the April meeting of the Economic Development Committee.

7 Responses to "Who Do You Work For? (Updated)"

  1. Patty Villanova   March 18, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Great work by Holly Crocco. Two dynamite articles about one of my favorite topics, the cesspool that is Putnam County government. It is my fervent wish that more taxpayers other than the “usual suspects” would avail themselves of the information that is presented in our local media, such that they could develop an understanding of how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.

    The truth is that a large majority of county employees are so incompetent that they would be hard-pressed to find similar, merit-based jobs in the private sector if they were not protected by the municipal unions and the politicians who bestow patronage jobs to shore up their own voting base.

    As to the question of who they work for: the simple answer is that they work for us, the ordinary, non-aligned taxpayers who have the money for their overblown salaries extracted from us. Ms. LoBue is correct in that respect as our legislators are our direct representatives. Thank goodness that she is not afraid to stand up to the bullies who are right now on very shaky ground as she so aptly pointed out.

    I found both Mr. Molloy and Mr. Smith’s responses to Ms. LoBue to be just what you’d expect from two arrogant public officials who have no respect for the people they do indeed work for.

    I personally have called the tourism office numerous times in the last six months and nobody ever answers the phone, let alone responds to my messages. I have also sent innumerable emails to Frank Smith, the County Exec and the legislature regarding the Visitors’ Bureau and Cold Spring that have gone unanswered. On several occasions when I was in Carmel, I stopped at the office during business hours to see Mr. Smith and he was never there. In fact, one of the women who works across the hall from him confirmed that “he’s never there” because he’s in school. Like I keep saying, it’s a no-show job at best.

    Regarding county attorney Jennifer Bumgarner’s assertion that it’s not clear if the bureau is subject to the state Freedom of Information Law that would require it to disclose certain information to lawmakers. “An argument can be made either way,” she said. “In the past, based upon the characteristics of the organization, it has been our opinion that they are not subject to FOIL.” Here is a cite to just one of numerous opinions from the Committee on Open Government regarding whether or not agencies like the Visitors Bureau have to comply with the FOIL:

    Section §86(3) of that statute defines the term “agency” to mean:

    “any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature.”

    We further note that §86(4) of the Freedom of Information Law defines the term “record” expansively to include:

    “any information kept, held, filed, produced, reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions. folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes.”

    Even though Molloy and Smith think they’re above the law, (and the county law department seems willing to give them a pass) the fact of the matter is that they are obliged to comply with the FOIL and produce the records that are asked for.

    Whether the new director will have time to right the many wrongs that have tarnished the Visitors’ Bureau before the money runs out remains to be seen. Stay tuned, it should be interesting.

  2. Margaret Yonco-Haines   March 19, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Is this a typo? Are these funds really required to be spent outside Putnam County? “Smith told legislators that in addition to the $60,000 in funds the bureau receives from the state as part of its ‘I Love New York’ campaign – money matched by the county that must be spent outside Putnam – the department relies on about $180,000 from the county.”

    • Patty Villanova   March 28, 2017 at 10:19 am

      It is not a typo, supposedly those are the guidelines. However, as with everything else that pertains to the tourism agency, there is quite a bit of controversy as to how these guidelines should be interpreted and what it means to spend the money outside of Putnam County.

      In years past Libby Pataki and even her successor, Frank Smith, provided money out of the I Love NY funds for marketing materials and promotions for Cold Spring. The money was spent on brochures, maps and radio ads that were aimed at tourists outside of the county. So even though the money was technically being spent inside of the county because it featured the Village, we were able to stay within the guidelines because our target market was New York City and the tri-state area.

      Last year when Barney Molloy somehow took over the Visitors’ Bureau board and became its chairman, one of the first things he did was to stop all funding for Cold Spring projects. It is a long and sordid story that I have written about many times in these forums.

      I have recently spoken to the new director, Mr. Conklin, and I am sorry to say that I don’t think our funding will ever be restored. Our own legislator, Ms. Scuccimarra, will do nothing to help us in this regard, as we have seen in the past. Nor will our village officials start to stand up for our rights to get some services in return for all the sales tax and fees that we generate for the county.

      Unless and until the residents, taxpayers and stakeholders become willing to fight for justice for Cold Spring, and to hold our elected representatives accountable, we will continue to get used and abused by Putnam County.

  3. Lithgow Osborne   March 19, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I attended this particular committee meeting.

    Molloy arrived with a number of board members, presumably for support. Not that it did any good. Neither Molloy nor the board would be up to the task of going head-to-head with LoBue. He is out of his league and too compromised to be taken seriously by anyone other than his ardent supporters. Anyone attached to this board runs the risk of besmirching their reputations.

    An unsteady hand will inevitably create a mess.

    Another bad choice by the County Executive, Frank Smith, has been enjoying the patronage of the executive during the re-organization period and has stated that he will remain even while attending law school. Our current county clerk enjoyed the same perk while working for Denis Sant, the former county clerk. With a salary of $50,000 per year and no office presence, the interim director is the quintessential no-show job. I suspect Bruce Conklin, from the look on his face, might be regretting his decision to return home to take this job.

  4. Matt Francisco   March 20, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Mr. Molloy was contemptuous of the Village Board when I was a trustee and it appeared he was moving around our boards to eventually chair the Planning Board just before the Butterfield application was submitted. Legislator LoBue asks the question of Mr. Molloy that many would like an answer to: “Who do you work for?” We don’t want a pedantic, formal response, just the truth.

  5. Kathleen E. Foley   March 20, 2017 at 10:51 am

    How is it that whenever Mr. Molloy is engaged in civic service on either side of the county, there are controversies about legal advice and billings, public access to information and records and full disclosure of facts and relationships? It’s interesting that he and his political compatriots make regular accusations of legal manipulation and lack of transparency. Their service and messaging are intriguing studies in projection.

  6. Patty Villanova   March 20, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, as a taxpayer you should be thinking about where your money is going and who the people are who are deciding how to spend it. Our legislator, Ms. Scuccimarra, has exhibited zero concern for the majority of her constituents, including those of us who live in Putnam Valley. In fact, the only time we heard from her in recent memory was when she played the Butterfield card. That was political pandering at its worst, a venal attempt to sway the votes of senior citizens who’ve been waiting for their center all these many years. Meanwhile, where has she been while the situation with the Visitors’ Bureau descended into chaos? Why hasn’t she been in there fighting to get money for Cold Spring tourism instead of defending the status quo all the time?

    Until we have people in Carmel who actually represent our interests, we will continue to get the short end of the stick. Time for the voters to wake up.