How the mighty have fallen

There are probably a dozen quotable scenes from the movie Pulp Fiction. This one fits the mystery surrounding former county executive Mike Hein’s sudden departure from state government last Friday. Was he fired? Was his resignation demanded? Does it matter?

“What now?” Bruce Willis’s character asks drug boss Marcellus after rescuing them from the clutches of a pair of perverted Cretans.

“What now?” Marcellus replies, murder in his eyes. “I’ll tell you what now.”

Hein’s removal by Gov. Kathy Hochul from the $220,000 job former Gov. Andrew Cuomo handed him some 30 months ago did not come as a complete surprise. The multi-billion-dollar emergency management-type office he headed had failed to distribute most of some $2.6 billion in federal Covid aid to thousands of sorely pressed renters and landlords across New York.

But according to published reports, it wasn’t massive misfeasance and incompetence that ended Hein’s all-too-brief state career (neither being sins in Albany), but, according to Hochul, his failure to communicate with Cuomo regarding the dire straits his program was in.

Specifically, under oath before an assembly committee hearing on the state’s failure to render sorely needed rental assistance in the midst of a pandemic, Hein was asked if he had advised the governor of the situation. Fair question. Hein testified that he had never talked to Cuomo about it. He communicated with the governor’s aides, he told an apparently incredulous assembly committee. Hochul cited that testimony as the reason for Hein’s removal.  

I’m not sure the governor’s stated reasoning passes the sniff test, but it’s entirely possible that the ever-loyal Hein was covering for his boss in the face of assembly scrutiny. If the governor didn’t know what was happening with rent relief, how could he be held accountable? Bottom line is that Mike Hein, a once rising star in the Albany firmament, is toast.

What now?

They won’t have to stage any benefit dinners for the returning favorite son. He’s probably set for life, but why leave anything on the table?

Hein left office as county executive in February of 2019 with maybe half a million sitting in his campaign coffers that he can spend any which way he pleased. Cashing in his numerous rental properties added an equal amount of frosting after taxes.

But Hein has always been in the game for the paycheck, so he would no doubt want to get fully vested in the state retirement system. Public pension payouts are computed through a combination of time in service and the three highest years in salary. Hein, who entered county government as a deputy treasurer under former treasurer Lew Kirschner in 2006, is about four years short on service for a full pension. Any government job, appointed or elected, at any salary will suffice.  With 20 years in the system coupled to one of the highest salaries in state government, Hein’s pension could exceed $60,000 a year. And they say public service is its own reward?

County employment seems a long shot, it being highly unlikely that Pat Ryan, his successor once removed (Hein’s chief of staff Adele Reiter padded her pension with a few months as exec before Ryan won a special election in April of 2019) would bring Hein back to county government in any capacity. Really, it would be like your ex-spouse moving in with you and your new squeeze.

Hein scrambled some eggs during his decade-long run as county executive which is to say, you meet the same people on the way down as on the way up. Hein’s been taken down a rung. Let’s see how he fares.

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UP THE IDA – Economic development – except for the IBM years now long gone – has never been Ulster County’s strong suit. Now, it would appear change is in the air.  

I refer to what might go down in history, were all the facts to be revealed, as the IDA Wars.

The Industrial Development Agency (IDA) plays a critical role in granting payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to developers in order to create jobs. It’s been a mixed bag, short on jobs, long on million-dollar tax breaks for developers who claim they can’t or won’t go forth with their projects unless they get public subsidies. Critics contend that these developments should be able to make it on their own.  Pilots, they charge, only add to the bottom line for those who really don’t need the money.

The revolt stated in New Paltz a few years ago where an aroused town board refused to sign off on a pilot that would have helped fund badly-need student dormitories for SUNY-New Paltz. Of late, a proposed pilot for a condo-commercial development in uptown Kingston called “The Kingstonian” and the relocation of a KIA dealership just around the corner to Lake Katrine north of the Rt. 209 overpass have come under fire.

The IDA was set up after IBM left (thus its “industrial development” mission) as an independent semi-autonomous agency under the control of the legislature. Its independence insulates it from politics, say legislators, which is nonsense, since legislators appoint its governing board.

And now, county executive Ryan is making moves toward bringing the IDA and its staff under his wing. “I don’t know how he can do that,” says legislator Brian Cahill, D-Ulster, “given the rules and regulations in place. But we’ll see.” What we saw was Ryan refusing to sign off on the Kia pilot, sending a clear signal of where he thinks control should reside.  

I’m not in favor of expanded executive power, but there should at least a robust public discussion of the role the IDA has played in economic development and if it could be better carried out through the offices of an elected public official. There has to be a better way.

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BUDGET TIME – I’m not looking forward to this Thursday’s 2022 county budget presentation. The prospect of wading through 450 pages of single-spaced narrative, charts and mind-numbing numbers and then attempting to ask relevant questions is akin in my view with root canal.

But I can predict this much: The county’s $76.3 million tax levy will remain virtually unchanged. Check that. Verily, the tax rate will be reduced by the amount of passbook interest being paid by local banks. And officials will sprain elbows patting themselves on the back for the marvelous way they’ve handled county finances.