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Amherst Town Board candidate criticizes 'golden parachute' payment to former IDA head

A Republican candidate for Amherst Town Board is calling on the chair and vice chair of the town's Industrial Development Agency board of directors to resign because the board paid the agency's former executive director for an additional eight months of salary after he resigned.

Joe Spino issued the statement after The Buffalo News reported on compensation paid to top IDA officials across the state and revealed the previously undisclosed payment to James J. Allen. Allen stepped down as the Amherst IDA's executive director in April 2016, after 36 years in the post, but the board agreed to pay him his full annual salary of $185,248.

Spino criticized the roughly $123,000 payment as "a golden parachute" that is inappropriate for public boards to provide to outgoing employees.

"Honestly, I was astounded," Spino said. "It was, I think, an egregious waste of money on something that shouldn't have happened to begin with. A payment like that is unconscionable, especially for an agency that is a public agency."

James Allen

IDA board members defended the payment as warranted, given Allen's length of service and his  accomplishments as executive director, and because it allowed the board to move in a new direction after Allen's retirement as quickly as possible.

"I think the actions the board took were appropriate, in action and in procedure," said Michele Marconi, the board's vice chair. "I'm really very comfortable with it."

Allen was earning the third-highest pay of any IDA official in the state when he resigned, according to the New York State Authorities Budget Office.

Steven Sanders, now the IDA board's treasurer, said board members met befoe then in executive session and privately in small settings with Allen to discuss "issues" with agency operations and his future with the agency. Those sessions led to the April 2016 board meeting, when the board abruptly revealed Allen's retirement.

Later in the meeting, following an executive session on a legal request for proposals, the board suspended the rules to discuss another unlisted agenda item.

That's when the board voted 6-0 to pay Allen a severance package that would compensate him through the end of the year, according to the minutes of the April 2016 IDA meeting.

Carlton N. Brock Jr., the board chair, told The News last week that the board voted unanimously in executive session, not in public session, to put Allen on paid leave through the end of the year. He did not describe the payment as severance, but the effect was the same because Allen did no further work for the agency.

Amherst IDA paid executive for 8 months after he retired

Brock noted that the board is paying Allen's replacement, David Mingoia, about $60,000 less per year and the agency saved more money not hiring anyone to take Mingoia's place as deputy director.

"I try to do what I believe is best for the Town of Amherst taxpayer. I believe that the agreement that was reached was the best possible agreement given all the circumstances," Brock said.

As for Spino, Brock said, "He's really playing politics."

Marconi and Brock said they have no intention of resigning.

They are both Democrats, while Spino is a Republican. The two IDA officials questioned why Spino is singling them out, when the board as a whole supported making the payment.

Spino is one of five candidates seeking two open seats on the Amherst Town Board in the Nov. 7 election.

He said, if he wins a seat on the Town Board, he would consult the town attorney on whether the board has any recourse to remove a member, all of whom are appointed by the Town Board and serve staggered terms. If not, Spino said, he would wait until Marconi's and Brock's terms are up and then join his fellow board members in appointing replacements.

Sanders, a Republican who also serves on the Town Board but is leaving that body at the end of the year, said he would not want to see the Town Board remove IDA board members before their terms have expired, "short of a specific scandal," because that would make the appointment process even more political than it is.

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