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Phooey to PHEEIA

In today’s Buffalo News, you can read about UB Law school dropping out of the top 100 in the US News and World Report rankings. The school isn’t even given a ranking—it’s as if they got tired of counting after 100.

Then, on page 10, you can read the editorial “Keep Pushing for UB,” the latest in a long string of puffy marketing pieces promoting UB2020/PHEEIA that the News has published in the guise of thoughtful insight from its editorial board. This one says the plan “would unlock the educational and economic potential of the university.”

(An outsider, upon noticing the number of times words like “unlock” or “unshackle” are used by WNY leaders, would conclude that the area has a bondage fetish.)

“This is an important and useful development for SUNY, its students and faculty and for taxpayers, as well,” the News writes, “The Assembly’s refusal, allegedly based on a fear of how the change would affect poor students, doesn’t hold water. That issue is dealt with in the legislation, which the Assembly leadership has done nothing to try to modify.”

Have you read the legislation? Well, click here to read the breezy little bill known as the New York state Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act—or PHEEIA.

Read language describing how and when tuition will rise, especially for students going through a program like UB Law. Note the possibility of some scholarships for poor people. Is that how the “issue” is dealt with?

Whatever. The business community is not concerned with poor people. What they love in the bill is that freewheelin’ public/private partnership lingo. Read what “state oversight” would mean under PHEEIA:

25    � 361. State university asset  maximization  review  board;  creation;
26  procedure.    1. Creation.   (a) The state university asset maximization
27  review board (“the board”) is hereby created to have  and  exercise  the
28  powers,  duties  and  prerogatives  provided  by  the provisions of this
29  section and any other provision of law.
30    (b) The voting membership of the board shall consist of three  persons
31  appointed by the governor, of which one shall be upon the recommendation
32  of the temporary president of the senate and one upon the recommendation
33  of  the  speaker  of the assembly. Upon recommendation of the nominating
34  party, the governor shall replace any  member  in  accordance  with  the
35  provision  contained in this subdivision for the appointment of members.
36  The governor shall designate one of the members to serve as chairperson.
37  The board shall act by majority  vote  of  the  members  of  the  board;
38  provided,  however that within forty-five days of receipt of an applica-
39  tion specified in paragraph (b) of subdivision three  of  this  section,
40  the  designated  board chairperson shall convene a meeting of the board,
41  consisting of all voting members of the board pursuant to paragraph  (b)
42  of this section.  Any determination of the board shall be evidenced by a
43  certification  thereof  executed  by all the members. Each member of the
44  board shall be entitled to designate a representative to attend meetings
45  of the board on the designating member’s behalf, and to vote  or  other-
46  wise  act on the designating member’s behalf in the designating member’s
47  absence. Notice of such designation shall be furnished in writing to the
48  board by the designating member. A representative  shall  serve  at  the
49  pleasure of the designating member during the member’s term of office. A
50  representative  shall  not  be  authorized to delegate any of his or her
51  duties or functions to any other person.
52    (c) The governor shall also appoint  two  non-voting  members  to  the
53  board  of  which  one  shall  be upon the recommendation of the minority
54  leader of the senate and one upon the  recommendation  of  the  minority
55  leader  of  the  assembly.  Each  non-voting member shall be entitled to
S. 6607–A                         65                         A. 9707–A

1  designate a representative to attend meetings of the board in his or her
2  place.
3    (d)  Two ex-officio non-voting members of the board shall be the state
4  comptroller and the state attorney general. Each ex-officio member shall
5  be entitled to designate a representative  to  attend  meetings  of  the
6  board in his or her place.
7    (e)  Every  officer, employee, or member of a governing board or other
8  board of any college or group or association of colleges, and every  New
9  York  state regent, every officer or employee of the board of regents or
10  the department and every trustee,  officer  or  employee  of  the  state
11  university  of New York shall be ineligible for appointment as a member,
12  representative, officer, employee or agent of the board.
13    (f) The members of the board shall serve without salary  or  per  diem
14  allowance  but  shall be entitled to reimbursement for actual and neces-
15  sary expenses incurred in the performance of official duties pursuant to
16  this section or other provision  of  law,  provided  however  that  such
17  members  and  representatives  are  not,  at  the time such expenses are
18  incurred, public  officers  or  employees  otherwise  entitled  to  such
19  reimbursement.
20    (g)  The  members,  their  representatives,  officers and staff to the
21  board shall be deemed employees within the meaning of section  seventeen
22  of the public officers law.
23    2.  Powers, functions and duties of the state university asset maximi-
24  zation review board; limitations.  Pursuant to this chapter,  the  board
25  shall  have  the  power and it shall be its duty to approve or deny: (a)
26  requests received from the trustees of  the  state  university  for  the
27  lease,  transfer  or  conveyance, other than the conveyance of title, of
28  state-owned  real  property  under  the  jurisdiction   of   the   state
29  university,  and  (b) requests from the trustees of the state university
30  to participate in joint and cooperative arrangements with  public,  not-
31  for-profit  and  business entities as partners, joint venturers, members
32  of not-for-profit corporations, members of limited  liability  companies
33  and  shareholders of business corporations
, as authorized by paragraph z
34  of subdivision two of section three hundred fifty-five of this article.
35    3. (a) The trustees of the state university of New York shall  submit,
36  in writing, an application to the board for the lease, transfer, convey-
37  ance,  other  than the conveyance of title, of state-owned real property
38  under the jurisdiction of the state university.  The  application  shall
39  include,  but  not  be  limited to, the name or names of the prospective
40  entity for which a lease or agreement shall be entered, the geographical
41  location and parcel of real property that would be utilized, the  period
42  of  time  for  which the lease, transfer or conveyance is to be executed
43  and any consideration which is to be granted to the state university for
44  the lease, transfer or conveyance of such real property.  Where a  lease
45  agreement  for  student and/or faculty housing is submitted to the board
46  for approval, if applicable,  the  board  may  take  into  consideration
47  whether  the  agreement  would  impact occupancy in dormitories financed
48  pursuant to agreements between the dormitory authority of the  state  of
49  New  York,  the  state  university  of  New York or the state university
50  construction fund.  The trustees shall also furnish any  other  informa-
51  tion that the board deems necessary within fifteen days of the request.

52    (b)  Upon receipt of an application from the trustees, the board shall
53  have no more than forty-five days to deem an application for the  lease,
54  transfer  or conveyance of property, other than the conveyance of title,
55  approved or denied.

S. 6607–A                         66                         A. 9707–A

1    (c) If the board fails to act on an application  within  the  allotted
2  time period specified in paragraph (b) of this subdivision, the applica-
3  tion shall be deemed approved.

Further…
4.  (a) The trustees of the state university shall submit, in writing,
5  an application to the board to  participate  in  joint  and  cooperative
6  arrangements  with public, not-for-profit and business entities as part-
7  ners, joint venturers, members of not-for-profit  corporations,  members
8  of  limited  liability  companies  and  shareholders  of business corpo-
9  rations, as authorized by paragraph z  of  subdivision  two  of  section
10  three hundred fifty-five of this article. The application shall include,
11  but  not  be  limited  to,  the  name of the entity with which the state
12  university seeks to participate, the type of legal entity to be created,
13  and the transaction that the state university and the other  participant
14  seek to undertake. The trustees shall also furnish any other information
15  that the board deems necessary with fifteen days of the request.

16    (b)  Upon receipt of an application from the trustees, the board shall
17  have no more than forty-five days to approve or deny the application.
18    (c) If the board fails to act on an application  within  the  allotted
19  time period specified in paragraph (b) of this subdivision, the applica-
20  tion shall be deemed approved.

__________________________

Can you imagine how many projects and ventures will be “approved” because the state university asset maximization review board will “fail to act” within 45 days?

This legislation has been sold to WNYers as a silver bullet that will save the region by allowing for public-private partnerships between SUNY and businesses and pave the way for a downtown UB medical campus. What it will also do is enable the already secretive public institution to further flip the bird to citizens seeking public records.

Rather than conniving ways to further shield SUNY from sunlight, our local legislators should be moving the public institution toward public disclosure.

Take for example the recent denial of access to records pertaining to the various UB Foundations we received on June 17 from SUNY FOIL Appeals Officer Rose Marie Scrodanus in Albany, who wrote: “You have also requested ‘records of all individuals employed by each organization including salaries and positions of individuals in which they are employed.’ Such records do not presently exist at the University at Buffalo.”

That’s odd, because only six days earlier UB spokesman John DellaContrada and SUNY counsel Robert Ruggeri in Albany had offered us portions of those same records—if we would just settle for that info and go away.

If those records don’t presently exist at the University at Buffalo (as Scrodanus claims), we’re left to wonder where they do exist, or at least where they existed at the time DellaContrada and Ruggeri were dangling portions of them in front of us over the phone.

In a conference call, they offered to share payroll information for people who are paid by both SUNY and the UB Foundations, but not those employed by the UB Foundations exclusively. That group includes people like President John Simpson’s California buddy Scott Nostaja—who is Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the State University of New York at Buffalo—and yet, amazingly, is not paid by the state! He’s paid by UB Foundation Activities. $332,307 in 2008.

Let me ask you this: if Nostaja is not paid by the state, then who is his boss? Who is he accountable to?

We said “no thanks” to the partial disclosure offer. Either the records are public or they aren’t, and we’re not particularly interested in finding out how little a grad student is being paid by the UB Foundations to teach undergrad courses.

You can click here to read the 2008 990 tax form filed by UB Foundation Activities, Inc. Click here to read the 2007 990 that shows there are 79 individuals paid over $50,000 by them. Who are these people, what do they do, and who are their bosses? If you click here, you can see who’s on the compensation committee. It’s two people. Angelo M. Fatta, chair of the board of trustees of the foundation, and university president John Simpson, who is quite generous to himself when doling out compensation.

Then take a look at all the vendors and law firms making a good living off the UB Foundations. The list goes on and on.

The citizens of New York could learn a lot if the State University of New York at Buffalo and its spinoff entities would “unlock” and “unshackle” that information and make it available to the public.

As for the legal games they continue to play with us regarding other current FOIL requests, maybe they will take a tip from Makau W. Matua, UB Law School dean, who says in today’s Buffalo News story: “Lawyers should be able to talk privately with their clients about social responsibility, about what is right and what is wrong.”


  • Been There

    Is SUNY above the law?

    I would like to share a response I got when I placed a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Law.

    I first placed my request with the Records Access officer on the Stony Brook campus, only to have my request denied. Understanding that I had all rights to pursue this matter further, I contacted SUNY Central in Albany to appeal Stony Brook’s decision to refuse my request. Again, I was denied access to those documents. I provided SUNY Central with a letter from 1995 written by the STATE OF NEW YORK, DEPARTMENT OF STATE, COMMITTEE ON OPEN GOVERNMENT, stating the reasons why I was entitled to the documents I was requesting. I also provided SUNY’s very own Policy showing that the public was entitled to the information I had requested.

    After being put off on getting any response,, I left a voice mail message for Rose Marie Scrodanus reminding her that she had committed to getting back to me days earlier with an answer.

    That night at 9:55 pm, Ms. Scrodanus emails me stating that she had consulted with the Attorney General’s office, and it is inappropriate for me to continue to questionor contact her after the appeal decision had been rendered.

    She then writes:

    Please do not call or correspond with me in the future regarding this matter.

    So, I take this to mean that the Attorney General’s office is advising SUNY Central to disobey the law.

    Remember, who the Attorney General is now and who is running for Governor in November.

    Question:

    Does UB use Austin & Co. located in Albany for their insurance needs too?

    Are they on SUNY’s “Exclusive” list of vendors?

  • Eric Sabadasz

    I’m originally from the Central Terminal neighborhood and grew up looking at it from my kitchen window every day as a kid. While I’d like to see Amtrack return to the station, I’m sorry to say that the fact of the matter is that won’t happen until the neighborhood is gentrified or at least secured. And I am in the neighborhood, as it is, on a weekly basis.

  • Brian J. Walker

    Spend the money on the Central Terminal. Then, look to the future and reclaim the old railroad right-of-way that goes from the Central Terminal to the airport as a limited access route for autonomous cars. It already intersects Galleria Drive – offering access to a major shopping destination as well. The route can go right through the Central Terminal area along existing rights-of-way to Canalside and downtown Buffalo. Riders could continue onto regular street to their destinations, or order a small car to pick them up. Larger vehicles could run the route regularly to handle commuters and people attending events. Paving the old right-of-way and adding stoplights for traffic control would be much less expensive and much more flexible than an expansion of the Light Rail Rapid Transit or any other fixed transportation system. By the time it’s built, the cars will be ready – and we’ll be in the forefront of urban transportation instead of lagging behind.

  • David Patch

    Correction: New York’s Grand Central Terminal was owned, at the time its demolition and redevelopment as an office tower was proposed, by the Penn Central, not Pennsylvania Railroad. Penn Central also owned Buffalo Central Terminal at that time, and historically both were built by the New York Central, not the Pennsylvania. (The landmarks preservation movement in New York was inspired by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s mid-1960s demolition of its Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, the site upon which the current edition of Madison Square Garden was then built.)

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  • DJF

    Correction: As President of Citizens for Regional Transit I want to say that we have not endorsed Central Terminal as the final selected site for Buffalo’s new train station. Our position is that Central Terminal must be considered as a prime candidate for the many reasons described in the article. There are also reasons arguing for a downtown station. Maybe we need two stations? Maybe one can be a grand station serving all trains like Central Terminal and one a less expensive “shelter station” or stop. As a member of the Mayor’s train station site selection committee we are considering all inputs and arguments before making a final endorsement.

  • Brian Pacos

    Sure, train stations have failed at BCT twice. Why shouldn’t the state and federal government dump millions down the drain to do it a third time…