Two grants approved by the Jamestown Local Development Corporation Board that raised questions of whether the board violated its by-laws are now on hold.
Jamestown Corporation Counsel Elliot Raimondo, who is also now the legal counsel for JLDC, said he is still awaiting guidance following conversations with the state and federal government, “We are waiting for that guidance before I make a final opinion on the federal aspect of it. And as much as the prior votes were concerned, we did follow general municipal law, which is what city council uses, whereby recusals happen and votes were then taken place, so I don’t find that we did anything not above board in that respect.”
Raimondo did issue the opinion and recommendation that St. Luke’s Episcopal Church be allowed to retain the $9,500 they received in Downtown Programming Funds for a fundraising concert as JLDC Board member and Church Reverend Luke Fodor is an employee of the church and not an owner.
The other two grants that Raimondo recommended not be disbursed until federal guidance is received include a $64,000 Building Acquisition & Business Expansion program grant for It’s Your Day wedding planning service. The owner of that business is the wife of JLDC Board Member Jeff Russell, who also serves on Jamestown City Council.
The other grant is $15,000 from the Downtown Small Business Evolution program for Jamestown Skate Products. That business is owned by JLDC Board Member Pete Scheira.
In all three instances, the board members in question either recused themselves or did not attend the voting session. However, the JLDC by-laws are clear in stating that no funding will be awarded to any business where a board member owns a material interest.
Not only did the awards appear to violate JLDC by-laws, but also state conflict of interest rules for municipal officers, and potentially federal rules as well.
Raimondo added that he recommends changing JLDC’s by-laws so that the body operates similarly to City Council under general municipal law.
Following the explanation and update by Raimondo, Mayor Eddie Sundquist, who also serves as JLDC president, asked if any JLDC board member wished to make a motion to revoke the funding for the businesses in question, but none came forward. Most board members in attendance who spoke out agreed that despite what the bylaws indicated, they felt a recusal was all that should have been required, given the ARPA funding was a unique situation for JLDC.
Besides a vote to revoke by the board or the federal agency instructing JLDC that the awards can not be made, the only other way to prevent the awards from moving forward would be if someone brought forward a lawsuit using an Article 78 legal proceeding in State Supreme Court, with a judgement being made in favor of the plaintiff.