Friday, February 18, 2011

Taxpayer funded local government group misrepresents its members, exceeds its mandate

The Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board (LGRB) is a taxpayer funded group whose statuatory objective is to provide oversight of and feedback to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), purportedly as the voice of the Park's local governments.

In reality, the LGRB's main objective is to lobby on behalf of development interests and against conservation efforts. A look at the Board's Our Issues webpage looks more like the writings of a private advocacy group than a public oversight board. Except private advocacy groups aren't funded by taxpayers.

The Board is chaired by the rabidly anti-conservation Fred Monroe, who is also the town supervisor in Chester and was, until recently, the chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

The LGRB recently passed a resolution urging the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to not go ahead with the planned purchase from the Nature Conservancy of Follensby Pond and the former Finch Pruyn lands in the Adirondacks. The Board argued that with the state facing dire financial circumstnaces, this was not the time for it to keep its promise to the Nature Conservency.

The resolution caused quite a stir for two reasons.

First, the LGRB was created by the legislature to provide oversight to the APA (which acts as a Park-wide zoning board for private land). As the LGRB's own website describes its mission: We work to insure that the interests of the people of the Adirondack Park and their local governments are protected as the Adirondack Park Agency carries out its duties set forth in the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the Freshwater Wetlands Act and the Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act.

And yet this taxpayer funded board was trying to block the actions of the DEC (which manages state-owned land), which is outside of its mandate.

As North Country Public Radio investigation pointed out, the way state law on land purchases is written, any town can single-handedly nix a land purchase paid for by the Environmental Protection Fund. All the towns involved okayed the deal, including Fred Monroe's town of Chester.

So how did the LGRB pass a resolution opposing the Finch and Follensby land deals?

The NCPR investigation explained: But an investigation by North Country Public Radio found that in fact no local government leaders from any of the towns affected by the Finch deal voted on the Review Board’s new resolution.

What’s more, Monroe now acknowledges that most town leaders involved in the Finch project weren’t consulted about the resolution before it was passed.

Monroe said, “Did I specifically go to all the towns that voted to approve these deals? No, that’s a valid criticism," but then went on to suggest that the opinions of the towns involved don't matter because he personally thinks it's the wrong time to be expanding the Forest Preserve.

NCPR also spoke with the town supervisors of Minerva and Indian Lake about the LGRB's resolution. They both re-iterated their towns' support for the deal.

Monroe dubiously claimed that the all the towns involved agreed to the deals under duress. A rather flimsy explanation was offered by member of the Saranac town board, though one wonders if such 'duress' was complained about at the time. But numerous other local elected officials quoted by NCPR involved disagree and cite the process as a model for how such deals should be done.

The Nature Conservancy, for its part, pointed out that that they also canceled plans to expand the forest preserve in two communities, Fort Ann and Long Lake, because town boards there objected. Even Monroe doesn't deny this.

Fred Monroe has some explaining to do. Why is the LGRB not only ignoring the wishes of its elected government members but to openly campaign against them? Why is Monroe having the LGRB using tax money to agitate on an issue outside its legal mandate?

If Fred Monroe wants to advance his personal anti-conservation agenda, that's his prerogative. But he ought not to falsely claim he speaks for town governments who actually oppose his position and he ought not to use taxpayer money to do so.


Guest said...

Apparently the towns agree that the purchase is bad for the economy.

The land is protected quite well now, and contributes more to the economy that it would if it were placed into the Forest Preserve, which would generate a miniscule amount by comparison through tourism revenues.

Brian F said...

Guest, your first statement is not correct. ONE town disagrees with the purchase. There were at least a dozen who passed resolutions agreeing with it.

Anonymous said...

Monroe also has a personal reason to oppose State purchase of the Finch Pruyn property. He is a member of one of the private hunting clubs that would lose their exclusive priviledge to use the property. As an employee of the State funded LGRB he has a conflict of interest. And by not disclosing it and recusing himself he may be in violation of the state rules and regs for ethical employee conduct. Hopefully someone is looking into that issue.