Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dinolfo tries I-Square damage control

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 1:52 PM

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinfolo isn't changing her story on I-Square, but she's released some e-mails and memos to back it up. 

An emotional, contrite Dinolfo held a press conference this morning to explain, as she put it, what she knew, when she knew it, and how she knew it in this scandal that has engulfed the county over the last several weeks, overshadowing everything else. I-Square is a development in Irondequoit invoked by GOP boss Bill Reilich in a misguided attempt to smear new Democratic county clerk Adam Bello. 

 Dinolfo also apologized to the public, to I-Square owners Mike and Wendy Nolan, to the media, and to current and former members of the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency board. She said that she'll announce changes to the county-COMIDA relationship on July 1.

"It happened on my watch and I am the county executive," Dinolfo said. "The buck stops here."

The I-Square controversy isn't really about the project; it's about what Reilich said about the project, where he got some information, and the way he used that information. As of today, four of seven COMIDA board members, including its chair, Theresa Mazzullo, have resigned and called on Dinolfo to disclose exactly what happened. And that's what Dinolfo attempted to do this morning.

It bears mentioning, though, that the board members cited their personal integrity and reputations as their reasons for leaving the board. No current or former board member has expressed concern or anger over being used by Reilich and Roj. Their concerns seem to be limited to perception. 

Reilich's shot at Bello should have been a routine exercise — the kind of thing you expect in local politics — but then he dragged I-Square into it, claiming that the project is failing and that it is somehow Bello's fault. Soon after, he said that I-Square was in violation of its tax incentive agreement with the East Irondequoit School District, the town, and the county.  COMIDA's attorney produced a memo backing up Reilich's statement, which was distributed to local press.

I-Square's owners, Mike and Wendy Nolan, were furious. They hadn't heard anything about a default or any problems with the agreement, they said, and wanted to know how the county GOP chair knew of any issue before them. (COMIDA officials have since sent the Nolans a letter confirming that project isn't in default.)

Eventually, Dinolfo named now-former Deputy County Executive Justin Roj as the source of the information; Roj has also been a longtime adviser to Dinolfo. She said that Roj misled her and she asked for and received his resignation. During this morning's press conference, Dinolfo said that she had nothing to do with providing the information to Reilich and that had she known that Roj was about to go to Reilich with the information, she would have told him not to. She released a memo from former COMIDA attorney Michael Townsend to Roj, who was in charge of county economic development matters, outlining the project's status.

"I will not tolerate this kind of behavior," Dinolfo said.

Dinolfo also released e-mails between Roj, Reilich,  and officials in her administration, all using private addresses, seeking review of Reilich's original statement on Bello. Dinolfo is copied in on the e-mails but she said she never uses the address to which they were sent.

The Nolans, who attended today's press conference, said that Dinolfo's remarks are a start, but that they want the county to publicly state that they weren't in default. A video clip of their remarks to media is attached below.

Democratic County Legislator James Sheppard reiterated his call for an investigation into the controversy by the state Comptroller's Office and the state Attorney General's Office.

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