No sense of urgency at Suffolk IDA

Anthony Manetta, the executive director of the Suffolk Anthony Manetta, the executive director of the Suffolk Industrial Development Agency who led a two-year overhaul of the agency, told his board on Thursday, March 27, 2014 that he is stepping down from his $155,000-a-year post. Photo Credit: Handout

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The Suffolk Industrial Development Agency last week held its first meeting since Anthony Manetta, its $155,000-a-year executive director, announced a month ago that he was leaving immediately to start his own consulting firm.

But at the meeting Wednesday, no one on the board even raised the issue of how to proceed to replace him.

Grant Hendricks, the IDA board's vice chairman, acknowledged there have been no discussions -- formal or informal -- about how to move forward. "There's not a sense of urgency right now," said Hendricks, even though a half-dozen people already have applied for the job.

That could be because not much at the IDA has changed.

While no longer executive director, Manetta attended last week's session as a $10,000-a-month consultant. Longtime IDA deputy Anthony Catapano, now acting executive director, reeled off details of applicants who were seeking IDA benefits, while Manetta only rarely chimed in.

Later, Manetta, 34, said he officially formed his consulting firm, Standard Advisors Group, a week ago. He said he already has three clients to whom he'll provide "strategic communication" services and is in talks with a half-dozen others.

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"The private sector is treating me very well so far," he said. "There are great opportunities out there."

While Manetta's contract with the IDA, which has no term, states he "will perform advisory work," it also lays out a more direct role in certain areas, saying he will "direct and implement the general strategy of the agency" and "oversee the agency's marketing . . . with . . . its ad agency.

Manetta's contract also requires he "provide a monthly status report to the agency detailing all the services provided at each board meeting." No report was made at last week's meeting, but Manetta said it is ready and it will be filed by month's end. Even as a consultant, Manetta said he is working 20 to 25 hours a week on IDA matters, sometimes as late as 1 a.m. at home. "There's still a lot to do," he said.

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Some lawmakers are concerned about the IDA board's inaction. "I thought they would have a plan about how the process should go," said the legislature's presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville). "You need a captain to steer the ship and keep moving forward."

Others blame the delay on internal Democratic wrangling over whether Robert Stricoff, a close Bellone ally, Babylon Democratic chairman and the town's $110,000-a-year IDA executive director, should be installed in the job. Stricoff, who is also executive vice chairman of the Suffolk Democratic Committee, has said publicly he is not interested in the job.

"The delay could reflect an impasse between the Bellone administration and a prospective appointee," said Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader, who says Stricoff may be balking because it could mean he would have to give up being a political leader. While county lawmakers do not vote on the top IDA post, Kennedy said, "I don't know if even the majority side would be willing to get behind it."

Suffolk Democratic chairman and Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer declined to comment, and Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said they have not given any thought to backing Stricoff and have "no current plans" to recommend anyone.

Hendricks and aides to County Executive Steve Bellone also downplayed any impact, citing Catapano's 15 years' experience and Manetta's consultant role, adding the board is awaiting the appointment of new board member Sandy Cochran -- expected this week -- before moving ahead.

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"Our understanding is the board feels very comfortable," Meyers said. "They feel they are in a good spot and we're with them."

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