Friday, January 10, 2014

Deal may avert detention center, Costco problem

Posted By on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 3:12 PM

This post has been updated and corrected.

Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature are re-evaluating their decision to block a big county borrowing measure. Details are fuzzy, but it looks like the measure may now have enough votes to pass. Democrats have held the legislation up since December in an attempt to get Republicans to support their plan to have the Legislature lead a review of local development corporations affiliated with the county. 

While LDC's have always been controversial, a couple of county-linked LDC's are currently under investigation by the US Attorney General's Office and the FBI. And four players in these LDC's are facing bid-rigging charges. Former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco has been hired by the county to do an internal review of policies and procedures related to LDC's. But Vacco reports right to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks. Dems say that's a conflict of interest for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Brooks's husband was one of the four LDC players arrested. (A judge is now weighing whether to dismiss the charges against Robert Wiesner on a technicality.) 

So Dems have been holding up the borrowing legislation in order to get the county review out of Brooks's hands and in the hands of the Legislature. 

But then Costco entered the picture.

Costco would be located in the CityGate project at the corner of Westfall and East Henrietta roads. But first, the county has to move its Children's Detention Center, which is in the way of the Costco project, according to the developer.

The state and county agreed to move the center to vacant space at the state's Industry Residential Center campus in Rush, and the state has completed renovations to the campus on the county's behalf. The state also agreed to lease the space to the county on a short-term basis, with the county ultimately purchasing it. County officials say they need to borrow $9 million to pay the state back and to buy the property pay back the state, buy the property, and build an addition.

Democrats say they want both the Costco and detention center projects to proceed, and have pitched ways to advance them without giving on the full borrowing measure, which would fund the year's projects in the county's multi-year capital projects plan. But their proposals have been blocked by Republicans.

Now Democrats appear to be backing off on their resistance. Yesterday, Democratic Minority Leader Carrie Andrews released this statement to some local media:

"Over the past few weeks, we have seen the extreme lengths to which Republicans are willing to go to prevent scrutiny of the policy failures that led to the scandal involving LDCs. When we decided to block the bonding resolutions for the capital budget, we never thought that the executive and her Legislature allies would be willing to jeopardize the welfare of children at the county's detention center and endanger the jobs to be created by the CityGate project just to protect their political interests. The Democratic Caucus will continue our battle to ensure the policy failures regarding LDCs are examined, but we are reluctant to jeopardize the welfare of our children and the CityGate jobs to do so. As such, working with the new mayor, we will be reevaluating our position so we can make sure jobs are created and the children in our care are treated properly. We will not, however, stop our pursuit of a public review of the policy failures that led to the LDC scandal."
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has been in discussions with Andrews, as well as with County Executive Maggie Brooks, regarding this Byzantine situation. And a Democrat and Chronicle article published this morning says that three Legislature Democrats — Willie Joe Lightfoot, John Lightfoot, and Glenn Gamble — plan to vote for the measure. Reached earlier this morning, Legislator Willie Joe Lightfoot referred questions to Andrews.

“This is a testament to the great progress that can be made when local leaders put politics aside and support important projects that create jobs. I thank Mayor Warren for her partnership in this effort,” Brooks said in a statement yesterday.

Ostensibly, the three Democratic votes would be enough to pass the large borrowing measure, including the detention center project. The only complicating factor is the Legislature's four vacant seats: three on the Republican side and one on the Democratic side. For the latter vacancy, a Democratic Party committee has selected Leslie Rivera to fill the seat — Legislature President Jeff Adair just needs to make it official. But Republicans have not indicated they've picked anyone for their vacant seats.

The vacancies don't change the two-thirds threshold needed to pass bonding legislation, but they make the math more interesting. 

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