By Christine Graf
Shelby Schneider, president and CEO of Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, has resigned from that organization, accepting a position as deputy director of New York State Economic Development Council (NYSEDC).
It is not known what the group will do regarding Schneider, who began her career at SCPP as the director of business retention and expansion.
Her economic development resume also includes 13 years spent working at Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC). She took the helm at SCPP in January 2020 following the departure of Marty Vanags. Vanags resigned after facing criticism for his high travel expenses as well as what some supervisors considered a lack of accomplishments.
During her tenure as CEO, Schneider was involved in ongoing discussions related to a merger between SCPP and SEDC. These discussion came to an abrupt halt in September after SEDC publicly expressed concerns that the partnership had illegally accessed and shared confidential SEDC Zoom meetings.
Prosperity Partnership board member Kevin Hedley issued a statement stating that claims that SCPP had acted improperly were baseless and unsubstantiated. He also said SEDC was not “acting in the best interest of Saratoga County Economic Development.” After realizing that his goal of merging the two organizations was not possible, Hedley resigned from the board.
Four members of the SEDC board also resigned as a result of the controversy. They were Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone, land-use attorney Matt Jones, Adirondack Trust Executive Vice President Michael O’Connell and Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus.
SCPP is funded by proceeds from the county’s hotel occupancy tax and has received approximated $4.5 million in funding since it was established in 2014. The organization’s mission is “to secure sustainable jobs and capital investment by attracting new business to the county and retain existing businesses by assisting them to grow.”
Due to concerns that the roles and responsibilities of the Prosperity Partnership and SEDC were overlapping, a county economic development committee chaired by Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett drafted a unity agreement for the two organizations in 2019. The unity agreement was subsequently approved by the board of supervisors.
“We developed revised roles and responsibilities for the partnership as well as how that relationship would complement other economic development partners of the county including SEDC,” said Barrett. “There were discussions through what was called the unity committee to try to eliminate duplicative efforts of the two organizations and eliminate any competition that was occurring between the two organizations.”
According to Barrett, discussions related to combining SCPP and SEDC came to a halt after the incident regarding the viewing of the ZOOM meetings.
“That was a successful process and we were fairly close to coming to a resolution, but that unfortunately resulted in those talks ceasing immediately. And they have not started up again. I’m not sure if that is still a possibility. It is unknown at this point. But if there is an opportunity to continue to work in that direction, I think that would be a positive move.”
Barrett said that room occupancy tax has declined dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, SCPP funding has been slashed. In order to reduce operating costs, SCPP downsized its office space.
In January, they relocated from the Stewart’s office complex to the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Building on Clinton Street in Saratoga Springs.
“Last year, the bed tax receipts were down significantly. Although we expect a rebound in the second half of 2021, we will be down for the year compared to pre-COVID numbers,” said Barrett. “Whenever you have a significant reduction in revenue for programs, that obviously precipitates a complete review of county operations. In this case it would be in the area of economic development.”
He remains hopeful that SCPP and SEDC will be able to repair their fractured relationship and that talks will resume. He believes it would be in the best interest of the county.
“Overall, our goal is to have an economic development program that will produce results at the smallest expense to the county,” said Barrett. “If there are efficiencies that can be reached through partnerships and working together, those opportunities should be reviewed and pursued. We do that in any county business.”
It will be up to the board of the Prosperity Partnership to decide how to move forward following Schneider’s departure. Barrett said no decisions have been announced and that he wishes Schneider well in her new position.
“We are all very happy for her,” he said. “It’s always great to see people excel and better their careers as they progress.”
Dennis Brobston, SEDC president, declined comment.