Greene County economic development chief Sandy Mathes had a very good year in 2008 and was handsomely — some say obscenely — rewarded by his board of directors. Under his 2004 contract negotiated with the Industrial Development Agency, which supervises economic development in Greene County, Mathes was paid $175,000 in bonuses on top of his $130,000 base salary for that year. As they say on Wall Street, that ain’t exactly hay.
IDA records show Mathes got another $45,000 in bonuses for 2009. Mathes, brash to at times the point of brazen, did not back up to the pay table.
“We had a spectacular year, our best ever,” he told me from his Coxsackie headquarters. Banner 2008 included 1200 new jobs, $4 million in new local taxes paid by developers, and $150 million in new investment.
“We changed the landscape,” Mathes crowed. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of talent, a lot of experience, to turn cornfields into jobs.”
No argument here. IBM-like developments have literally erupted out of the old cornfields in uptown Coxsackie off Route 9W in the last five years. Down here, we talk and talk about getting TechCity filled up, 15 years after IBM went south.
But isn’t it Mathes’ job to transform the landscape, and isn’t $130,000 a year a pretty good salary for doing it? I asked the bonus baby.
“The IDA board, which is comprised of private-sector business people, decided an incentive system was the best way to go,” he replied. “There have been some years where I didn’t get any bonus.” But, not many. Bonuses between 2004 and 2009 totaled $352,000, according to IDA records.
Mathew notes that all IDA expenditures, bonuses or otherwise, come from fees charged developers, not from taxpayers.
Included in that very good year was Mathes luring Empire Liquor (formerly Colonial Liquors) from Kingston to Coxsackie. Competition for economic development, therefore, is not just between nations and states, but right down to the county level.
In Ulster County, economic development chief Lance Matteson can only dream of the bonus compensation Mathes achieved. Under his contract with UCDC, Matteson, whose base salary is similar to what Mathes earns, can command a maximum of $15,000 in bonus pay, he said...
Last year was a pretty good year for UCDC, he said, with upwards of $150 million in new development, driven primarily by the $117 million invested in Woodland Pond in New Paltz. The director said 609 jobs were either retained or created. Left unsaid is that Ulster County has four times the population of its spectacularly performing neighbor to the north. In baseball terms, it’s like comparing the Mets to the Yankees.
Mathes thinks his system works better than those in surrounding counties because “we’ve taken politics out of it.” Businesspeople, he said, make economic-development decisions in Greene County, “not politicians.” (Ulster’s gaggle of UCDC board members is comprised mostly of business types, with a smattering of politicians by title.)
As a former aide to the late state senator Charlie Cook and a former majority leader of Greene County’s legislature, Mathes certainly knows his politics. Perhaps the question then isn’t so much whether Sandy Mathes is worth $305,000 in a very good year — I find it wildly excessive in this economy, but maybe I’m just jealous — but whether paying a go-getter economic developer like Mathes another $100,000 or so a year would make a material difference in too-long-dormant Ulster County.
Let’s see whether I have this right. Up until about two months ago, Ulster County’s consumer affairs and human rights departments were full-time positions with salaries averaging $61,000 a year. Merged with a full-time director of the youth department (as yet to be confirmed by the legislature), the jobs of consumer affairs and human rights can be done in five hours a week. Or so says county executive Mike Hein.
If so, it is fair for the taxpayers Hein so fervently seeks to protect to ask, “And just what were those people doing in their full-time jobs before?”
Another salient question might be, “If we have recently discovered — or admitted to — two five-hour departments, how many others are there among the 40-odd agencies under the executive’s direct supervision?”
If there be such a thing as a can of worms in Pandora’s box — as Kingston alderman Bob Senor might say — we have here a real conundrum. The chief reformer, it would seem, at the least suffers from myopia. In surveying the forest from high on the sixth floor of the county office building, is the executive missing the trees?
In Hein’s defense, there are many who believe he’s on the right track in reining in county spending and reducing the workforce through attrition, early retirement and dismissal. The headcount during Hein’s almost 19 months in office stands at just over 100 (including 30 dismissals) with perhaps another 200 or so on the block in next year’s budget.
Meanwhile, the cat-and-mouse game between executive and legislature regarding the filling of the (35-hour week) youth bureau job continues, with Hein apparently laboring under the illusion that similar strategies will produce different results. Hein, after having consumer affairs director Janet Caffo summarily rejected by the legislature in July, has offered Arlene Reynolds, director of human rights, as a replacement. Reynolds (no relation) would also work full-time as youth director while devoting five hours a week to her old job.
Reynolds, from what I’ve been told, was given a polite interview by chairman Fred Wadnola Friday morning, but did not impress. She was accompanied by deputy executive Bob Sudlow, who among other things extolled the performance of Caffo, whom he said had over 250 referrals at consumer affairs in July.
Wadnola did not mince words. “I don’t think she was as good a candidate as Caffo, and we didn’t support Caffo,” he said.” If anything, I think she’s even less qualified [for youth director] than Caffo.”
Having read her resume, I’d judge Reynolds as, if anything, more qualified than Caffo in terms of her record of working with youth. At the risk of damning with faint praise, Reynolds was a third grade teacher for a few years some 40 years ago and served in the Peace Corps. While it doesn’t appear on her resume, she also worked on programming at Ulster County Community College in the Seventies. She has an advanced degree in finance, useful for begging for grants from state and federal authorities.
Caffo, whom Hein called “a spectacular manager,” has a master’s in social work with a specialty in geriatrics.
Like Caffo, Reynolds may be DOA when the legislature meets to consider her nomination next week. Unlike Caffo, hired a year ago, Reynolds has been on the county payroll for a dozen years. She has her attendant allies. Do I hear the distant crackling of twisted arms as Jeanette Provenzano lobbies for a favored candidate? The feisty minority leader helped save Reynolds’ job last year when then-minority Republicans sought to eliminate her department. She is making every effort to provide Reynolds cover this time around, but it is a long way to the 17 votes necessary for confirmation. Republicans, if they all show up, hold an 18-15 majority. Caffo’s nomination was defeated 18-11.
Hein, in offering up a second nominee with only a passing record in youth work, apparently believes his department heads are interchangeable, a judgment not shared in a legislature far more sensitive to “qualifications” than when they ran the show from 1683 to 2008 (except for 1978-79).
Overriding the “pitiful” politics (Hein’s assessment), what is at stake here is something larger than outsized egos. There are legislators, mostly Democrats, who believe the executive should have a virtual free hand in hiring, firing and transferring personnel under his jurisdiction. Other legislators, mostly Republicans, believe in a system of advise and consent, checks and balances. They say the legislature ought to be co-equal at least in terms of appointments. Essentially, that’s what the charter says.
Let the games continue. ++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.