An attorney for Roberta Jordans said she "is the fall guy" for "an array of public officials not taking responsibility."

Ontario County's assistant economic developer is challenging charges she violated policies pertaining to a $24 million revolving loan fund.

Ontario County Administrator Geoff Astles brought the charges on June 27. The case came to light after the Board of Supervisors held an executive session Thursday to discuss the matter, and then approved, in open session, hiring outside legal counsel.
The charges involve "incidents going back two years," said Matt Fusco, the Rochester attorney representing Assistant Economic Developer Roberta Jordans. Fusco said Jordans is being accused of renegotiating loans without approval from the Board of Supervisors.

But Fusco maintains all but one of the loans were renegotiated before the board made it a policy that its approval was necessary. And that loan, he said, was renegotiated while Jordans was out of the office on leave.

"She has really been the fall guy," said Fusco. "We have an array of public officials not taking responsibility."

Astles did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Board Chairman Ted Fafinski, R-Farmington, said he had removed himself from Thursday's session because, he said, he anticipates "being involved with the decision-making process in the case."

Assistant County Attorney Charlie Peters said Monday that, "the proposed discipline" seeks to give Jordans "less authority and a lower-level job." Jordans "allegedly mismanaged revolving loan fund transactions," said Peters. Essentially, the allegations are that she "changed the terms of the loans," he said.

Jordans said Monday she is performing her job and referred all other questions to Fusco.

"For 25 years, the policy has been in place" that allowed renegotiating loans without going back to the board, said Fusco. Astles, County Attorney John Park and the office's Executive Director Michael Manikowski have all participated in renegotiating loans, added Fusco.

"The county attorney's office was knee deep in this," he said. But they "blame the only woman, and the lowest person on the totem pole."

On May 10, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a package of changes to policies regarding handling of its revolving loan funds. The new policies require companies to provide more detailed financial statements and other information, and be subjected to closer scrutiny from a review committee and the board.

The county's Office of Economic Development runs the funds, which earlier this year underwent an internal audit revealing poor performance. Among the problems cited were broken promises on job creation and repayment of loans by companies receiving funds. Of the 39 current loans, 36 were listed as having problems. 

The office is made up of Executive Director Manikowski, Assistant Economic Developer Jordans and an assistant, Linda Frasca. Also working for the office are the two who issued the internal audit — Assistant County Attorney Kristen Thorsness and Financial Manager Mary Gates.

According to the audit, about 10 percent of the $8,081,764 in outstanding loans to 39 businesses had been booked as uncollectible. Since the loan program was started 24 years ago, 16 of the 137 loans have been written off.

The funds originate from Washington and are channeled to the county through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and then through Albany.

Jordans has been assistant economic developer since July 1994. Her 2007 salary is $98,562.  When the Board of Supervisors approved the 2008 salaries for its dozens of administrative managers on Aug. 2 — which normally includes the position of assistant economic developer — Jordans' position was not included. That salary "has not been established" for 2008, said county Human Resources Director John Garvey.

On Thursday, the board hired Syracuse law firm Bond Schoeneck & King to handle the revolving loan fund case for $28,000. 

Peters said the outside firm was hired because "we all have conflicts to prosecute this for the county."

County Attorney John Park said when Fusco identified witnesses, "he included several in this office."

"There are quite a few witnesses," added Park. "There are a number of issues to be discussed."

Park said he anticipates that, once a hearing is scheduled, it will take "several days of testimony."

One supervisor indicated Monday he thinks the action against Jordans is jumping the gun. Rocky LaRocca, D-city of Geneva, is chairman of the Planning and Research Committee, which oversees the county Office of Economic Development. LaRocca said he thinks there should be consequences for those violating the new policy, "but I don't see reason at the moment to do that."

"The new policies have just been implemented," said LaRocca.

"Mike Manikowski runs a fine department," he added. "We now have a policy that clearly reads."

Manikowski declined to comment on the case, saying "it's a personnel matter."

Meanwhile, Fusco said that, in addition to challenging the charges brought by Astles, they also plan to file a lawsuit against Ontario County and Canandaigua Town Supervisor Lloyd Kinnear — for making information that under state law is supposed to be kept confidential public.

"These charges are part of her personnel file," said Fusco, and protected under the state privacy law for public officers.

Kinnear was quoted by another newspaper as saying Ontario County had started disciplinary action against Jordans for making changes to revolving loan fund transactions without notifying anyone until afterwards. Kinnear is on the Planning and Research Committee; he also has a long-standing legal dispute with the county Industrial Development Agency, which has the same staff and works out of the same office as the Office of Economic Development. Kinnear's Town Board is battling the IDA over a proposed airport expansion that requires the closing of a town road.

Kinnear said Monday he never leaked the information.  

As for the revolving loan fund issue, Kinnear said, "this whole process has been a cleanup. We started asking questions. Now, as we peel the onion skin back there is more that needs to be addressed. Whether there is impropriety or not, that is yet to be determined."

As for being taken to court over the leak, Kinnear said: "I guess I will have to lawyer up."

Julie Sherwood can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at jsherwood@mpnewspapers.com.