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Fireworks at the Lancaster IDA

Industrial Development Agency meetings can be staid affairs, conducted with little disagreement and plenty of unanimous votes.

That wasn't the case at this morning's meeting of the Lancaster IDA board, however, where for a while it seemed like the audience was watching ESPN's Pardon the Interruption or the old Crossfire show on CNN.

The debate broke out as members of the board discussed whether to renew the agency's contract with a well-connected lobbying firm, Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese & Associates, whose partners include former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello.

The agency pays the firm $500 per month, or $6,000 for the year, for lobbying and "government affairs consulting services," and the firm sought a one-year extension that would run through September 2012.

Several board members began to discuss whether the agency has received enough value for its money. Bill Tate said the firm submits to the board notices of the meetings its representatives hold with various state officials, but those submissions don't include enough substance and it's unclear what has come from the lobbying sessions.

"What are the results of these meetings?" he asked.

The discussion then turned to whether Carl Calabrese, a partner at the firm and the former deputy Erie County executive, should meet more often with the board or provide more written reports on the firm's work.

Calabrese met with the board in August and gave a presentation on the firm's efforts to address two main areas of concern: Reforming the state's environmental review regulations to make them more business-friendly, and bringing "consistency and balance" to the state's wetlands policy.

This recent session didn't seem to be enough for some board officials, including the agency's attorney, Dominic Terranova, who began arguing with agency consultant Paul Leone over how --- and how often --- Calabrese should report to the board.

The Terranova-Leone tiff continued after the meeting, as Depew Mayor Steven Hoffman waited to talk to Leone, with the consultant explaining that he only received the contract-extension request at this morning's board meeting and reminding Terranova that Calabrese spoke at the previous month's board meeting.

An exasperated Leone then called up Calabrese and handed his cell phone to Terranova so that the attorney could say what he wanted to say to the lobbyist.

After the phone call, Terranova and Leone said they didn't know why this turned into such a heated argument. As a spirit of detente settled over the empty council chambers, they agreed whatever communications Calabrese previously made only to board Chairman Robert H. Giza and his secretary need to be distributed to the full board.

The board never did vote on the contract extension, and they've asked Calabrese to come to the agency's October meeting and to submit regular updates on the firm's progress.

Reached later, Calabrese said he'll have to rework the presentation he made at the August meeting for next month's meeting.

"I thought it was a pretty comprehensive report," Calabrese told us, noting that the Erie County IDA just retained his firm's services. "I don't know what else they want."

-- Stephen T. Watson



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