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Citing alleged conflicts, Ryan wants Sloma out

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan on Tuesday stepped up his mounting criticism of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, calling on its acting chairman to resign because of alleged conflicts of interest and "failed leadership."

The rookie Democratic lawmaker from Buffalo said Henry M. Sloma has violated his responsibility to the NFTA by serving on the industrial development agencies of both Erie and Niagara counties.

Because the two IDAs have waived more than $5.3 million in mortgage recording tax (a dedicated source of revenue for the NFTA) over the last four years, he said, the authority was deprived of $1.3 million. He also said that unlike Erie County, Niagara County provides no sales tax revenue to the NFTA, arguing that even the benefits of growth and revenue stimulated by IDA tax breaks fail to reach the NFTA.

"It's outrageous," Ryan complained. "He has a fiduciary responsibility as acting chairman of the NFTA to do everything in his power to act in that agency's interest."

After the NFTA suggested massive service cuts and layoffs to handle a $14.7 million deficit, Ryan alleged that Sloma's votes on both IDAs contributed to the problem.

"The NFTA's plan to cut service routes is an example of the consequences of acting Chairman Sloma's failed leadership during his time with the NFTA," Ryan said.

Sloma questioned Ryan's vote to support aid for New York City's transit system while not "defending the needs of the NFTA" in the Assembly.

The assemblyman said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should appoint a new chairman to Sloma's position, where he has served for almost two years in an acting capacity. Ryan reiterated his contention that the NFTA has advanced beyond its "core mission" of providing transportation because of failed leadership.

"Reforms are needed to address your deficit," he said in a letter to Sloma. "A new permanent chair of the NFTA is the only way to remedy these problems."

Ryan acknowledged that Cuomo has not made any appointments at the transit authority since taking office in January 2011. He said he has now asked him twice in recent months to make necessary moves on the board of commissioners.

Sources continue to indicate that Cuomo plans to appoint Commissioner Howard A. Zemsky as permanent chairman of the NFTA, with Sloma to be renamed a commissioner from Niagara County. Zemsky was nominated to serve as chairman by then-Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer but was never confirmed by the State Senate.

Ryan's latest blast at the authority arrives just as Cuomo is scheduled to visit Buffalo today, and follows the promise of the New York State Authorities Budget Office to conduct a financial and operational review of the NFTA at Ryan's request.

Sloma said he agrees that a permanent chairman should be named.

"It is my understanding [Zemsky] will be nominated and confirmed, and I hope it comes as soon as possible," he said.

Still, he questioned Ryan's commitment to the NFTA after the assemblyman voted to send $250 million to the downstate Metropolitan Transportation Authority in lieu of expired local taxes.

"I find it intriguing Assemblyman Ryan is so interested when he voted for additional funding for the MTA," Sloma said. "I did not read anything about him defending the needs of the NFTA on the floor of the Assembly."

A Niagara County resident, Sloma noted his position as chairman of the NCIDA and his appointment to the ECIDA by virtue of his seat on the transportation authority. He called the accusation of a conflict of interest an "interesting issue."

If a permanent chairman is appointed soon, he said, the Erie County issue will become moot. And he said his votes at NCIDA, while resulting in less mortgage recording tax revenue for the NFTA, still create "jobs and opportunity" in Niagara County. He said the "abstract" question raised by Ryan should be explored by some ethics group if Ryan finds it necessary.

"I really wish Assemblyman Ryan would focus on finding positive solutions," Sloma said.