The mayor of Lockport has been president and chairman of the city's development agency since it was founded 25 years ago, but that might not be the case much longer.
The Greater Lockport Development Corp. board of directors tabled the usually routine re-election of Mayor Michael W. Tucker as president because of questions raised by the agency's outside auditor.
John Schiavone of the firm Lumsden and McCormick had wondered in his annual audit whether Tucker's role violated the state's new Public Authorities Accountability Act, aimed at preventing conflicts of interest for officers of agencies like the development corporation.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano, who is also the development corporation's attorney, said he thought it would be all right for Tucker to continue as president.
"I think [Schiavone's] reading too much into it. The chairman sits at the head of the meeting. The president is an officer," Ottaviano said. "He can't sign checks without anybody countersigning. He can't do anything without the board. As president, he really has no power."
There's nothing specific in the act that the mayor cannot serve, said Harry Sicherman, the city's economic development consultant. But he said with the mayor in charge of the agency, it's possible to find documents "with the same guy as buyer and seller."
The board took Ottaviano's advice to table the election of a president until legal research is complete.
But his off-the-cuff opinion is exactly opposite from the advice given the Niagara Power Coalition last year by its then-attorneys from the Harris Beach firm. That group of municipal and school leaders was advised that because of the state law, no one serving on its board should be an officer, and no elected official of any of the member municipalities should hold those jobs, either.
The Power Coalition changed its bylaws to reflect that and is currently seeking outsiders to hold its officer titles. County Legislator William L. Ross had been serving as board chairman, president and acting treasurer.
Tucker, who was re-elected development agency chairman, said the presidential title "really doesn't make much of a difference. . . . It's not like I'm holding onto that position for dear life."
The board did elect retired utility executive David N. Greenfield as vice president, Common Council President John Lombardi III as secretary and Alderman Patrick W. Schrader as treasurer.
The conflict-of-interest problem arose again later in the meeting when the board declined a recommendation from Community Development Director William J. Evert to hire an outside appraisal firm to set a taxable value for Commerce Square.
The development agency foreclosed on the former Harrison Radiator plant last summer and created a new entity, 210 Walnut LLC, to operate the building. Tucker is head of that, too.
Ottaviano said 210 Walnut has to pay taxes, and the board decided it was City Assessor Peter J. Galarneau's job to decide what the assessment should be.
Galarneau, who was appointed by Tucker in September, said he can do the job, but he could see where a conflict could arise that an outside company could solve.
"With the relationship between the [development agency] board and the city, they didn't want anyone to cry foul if I came up with a low number," he said.
Commerce Square is currently assessed at a shade under $3.5 million.