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NYPA nominee vows probe on donations

New York Power Authority chairman Richard Kessel speaks

New York Power Authority chairman Richard Kessel speaks to a reporter last year in Merrick. Photo Credit: File, 2009 / Joel Cairo

A newly appointed trustee on the New York Power Authority said that if confirmed by the State Senate this week, he will open an investigation of the authority's use of funds for charitable donations.

"We'll have a very thorough investigation, even if it requires hiring some outside counsel or investigators," John Dyson, a former chairman of NYPA who was recently reappointed to the board, said Thursday. He could be confirmed to sit on the board this week.

Dyson's concern followed a letter from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to NYPA chief Richard Kessel on Monday ordering a halt to non-NYPA-related donations. That letter followed revelations that NYPA has made thousands of dollars in donations to several charities on Long Island in areas that NYPA doesn't service.

Bert Cunningham, a NYPA spokesman, has said the donations were vetted and in line with guidance provided by an attorney general's ruling on donations in 2007.

"The NYPA board of trustees adopted the authority's sponsorship policy that reflects the attorney general's 2007 opinion," Cunningham said Friday. "And, as always, staff is more than willing to work with any trustee seeking information on its implementation."

Dyson expressed concern that two attorneys general have already taken stances on Kessel's donation practices. Former Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, now governor, ruled that the Long Island Power Authority, under Kessel in 2007, could not make donations outside its core energy mission.

"This kind of stuff, when you have two attorneys general commenting on it, we have to be sure we're living by the letter of the law," Dyson said.

Dyson said he was recently questioned by a Senate committee in advance of a confirmation hearing about the donation by NYPA of thousands of dollars to causes such as the Merrick and Bellmore chambers of commerce.

"If I'm confirmed, I certainly will get into all the details" of the donations, Dyson said. "Trustees have the absolute authority to get that kind of information."

Dyson said upstate senators were "very concerned about it," given that much of NYPA's power generation and revenue come from upstate projects such as the Niagra and St. Lawrence hydroelectric facilities. "They see it as their money being misspent," he said.

Scott Rief, a spokesman for Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), said the full Senate is expected to take up Dyson's confirmation as early as Monday and there's no indication he'll be rejected.

"The fact that he [Dyson] has cleared committee already and is scheduled for a floor vote is a positive sign," Rief said.

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