A new executive director has been hired to run the Mount Vernon Industrial Development Agency (IDA), making her the fourth person to head the disputatious office in a year-and-a-half.
The IDA board this month appointed Eileen Mildenberger, an attorney who had once directed the Westchester County Office of Economic Development and the county Industrial Development agency. The IDA board also appointed Edwin J. “Ned” McCormack to a newly created position, communications director. He will also serve as a senior adviser to Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, the IDA chairman. Both jobs pay $135,000 a year.
“We’re excited to have them,” Thomas said in a brief telephone interview, “because they have a strong track record of getting results.”
During Thomas’ two-year tenure, the IDA has grown.
As of summer 2016, the sole employee was Executive Director Margaret Finlayson, an appointee of Ernest Davis, the previous mayor and IDA chair and Thomas’ political rival. She was replaced by Sean McIntyre, who has held several titles as interim executive director, executive director, transitional director and now deputy director.
Last April, Thomas appointed Stacey Brayboy to head the agency. The former U.S. Department of Agriculture official kept her home in Virginia, was seldom seen at IDA events and on Nov. 10, after seven months as head of the agency, resigned.
“She was recruited from underneath us,” Thomas said, to become deputy director of the Virginia Department of Agriculture. “So holding onto talent has been a challenge.”
In the meantime, the IDA has added positions. Maria Donovan, who doubles as Thomas’ spokeswoman, was named strategic director. Roberta James, a Thomas mayoral campaign worker, became the business development director. The IDA organization chart shows openings for a chief of staff, board secretary and bookkeeper.
The agency brought on consultants. Daniel Macom of DJM Inc. was hired to provide branding and media services at $85 an hour. Universal Engineering Services was hired to handle code enforcement issues for $150 an hour.
RBT CPAs was hired to clean up the books and compile the 2016 financial statement. When the report was submitted, a member of the firm reported that “accounts were not where they should have been.”
Mildenberger and McCormack have government and private-sector experience and both were senior advisers to Robert P. Astorino, the former Westchester county executive.
Mildenberger most recently served as acting commissioner of the county planning department and director of the economic development office. She was executive director of the county IDA from 2011 to 2013. She previously was chief operating officer of Empire State Development and worked as a bankruptcy attorney.
McCormack was county communications director for eight years. Previously, he worked in communications for Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. and as a journalist at the New York Times.
The agency has been embroiled directly and indirectly in lawsuits.
Last month, Alan Landauer sued the IDA, Thomas and staffer Roberta James for $15.1 million in federal court, claiming they had blocked his attempts to sell property on Bradford Road to a developer.
Developer Peter Fine sued the mayor last year, claiming that Universal Engineering Services had carried out a harassment campaign that delayed the opening of Fine’s IDA-supported La Porte Apartments at 203 Gramatan Ave.
The Mount Vernon Board of Education has sued the city twice in just over a year over zoning and IDA tax abatement practices that it claims burden the schools.
Thomas attributes the turmoil to politics and to people unaccustomed to a new way of doing business. “The IDA ran on a wink and a nod,” he said. “It’s a major shock that you cannot just walk in here and get carte blanche on anything you present.”
He said the agency used to focus only on low-income, affordable housing projects. The financial assistance application was two pages. Now it is trying to entice companies priced out and pushed out of New York City and elsewhere to build the tax base and create jobs. The application is 32 pages, “and we crunch the numbers and focus on value,” the mayor said.
Thomas depicted the new hires as the right people to lead the IDA at a pivotal time. As Washington and Albany talk about rebuilding infrastructure, he said, the city needs people who know how to navigate those worlds and compete successfully for funding.
“The job of the IDA is to get that story out,” Thomas said in announcing the appointments, “to grow the tax base and create job opportunities.”