Half of all the members of the committee chosen to guide the city of Auburn through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative process could have potential conflicts of interests arise as these members also represent organizations with projects vying for a piece of the $10 million funding.
The local planning committee is a board of 14 members who were selected by the state Department of State to develop the city's strategic plan, which includes selecting the final list of projects that will be sent to the state for funding consideration. The members were chosen by the secretary of state based on recommendations from local, regional and state personnel, according to a DOS spokesperson.
"The individuals recommended are actively involved in many aspects of downtown revitalization, and have ideas and expertise to share that will help make the community's strategic investment plan more effective," the department said in an email to The Citizen.
Committee co-chair Auburn Mayor Michael Quill, Auburn City Councilor Dia Carbajal, East Hill Medical CEO Keith Cutler, Auburn Public Theater artistic director Angela Daddabbo, Cayuga Community College President Brian Durant, Nick's Ride founder Joel Campagnola and Auburn Local Development Corp. member James Hutchinson all represent organizations that have projects up for DRI funding.
These seven committee members' projects were included in the city's winning DRI application. However, projects in the application are not guaranteed state funding, or even guaranteed to make it into the final list of projects. The local planning committee is tasked with deciding which projects, if any, from the DRI application will be chosen. There's also the possibility that projects not in the original application could be included in the final list as well.
Guidelines set forth by the state require committee members who have projects up for consideration to recuse themselves from discussions and votes involving their own projects. During the local planning committee's first meeting, each member signed a code of conduct, which is reviewed at each subsequent planning committee meeting, according to the DOS.
"All members are instructed upon appointment to represent the broader public interest and not specific projects with which they are associated," the DOS spokesperson said in an email.
The state has given committee members an acronym — DAD — to remember to ensure they are acting ethically. DAD stands for: "disclose" conflicts of interest, "act" in the public interest and "disqualify" if necessary.
"If you keep DAD in mind, you should not have any issues," the code of conduct reads.
The code goes on to say that any members who do not agree to follow the code or are found to be in violation of its terms will be removed from the committee.
However, Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor with the government accountability group Reinvent Albany, said a code of conduct is not enough to prevent conflicts from arising.
"When members of a board or committee are chosen to make a determination, they should not have a conflict, they should not have matters before the board," Camarda said. "In a city of 26,000 people, they should be able to find 14 people who don't have a conflict of interest."
He said those involved with the DRI should either be advocates for their projects or decision makers, but not both. He said the policy would be difficult to monitor and the state would have no way of preventing committee members from having private conversations about their own projects.
There will be several opportunities for Auburn residents to give their input on the city's $…
"Relying on their good faith, we think is not a strong ethics policy," Camarda said.
The planning committee's next meeting will take place from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Auburn Holiday Inn. The committee is also accepting applications for DRI project proposals through Nov. 2. Applications can be found online at auburnsparks.com/dri/call-for-proposals or at Memorial City Hall.