There was a time during the financial meltdown of Erie County government in 2005 when the Erie County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Erie County Fair tried to distance themselves a bit from the “Erie County” part of their names. It was understandable, since Erie County wasn’t a very positive brand name at the time.
We could be coming to a point where Erie County government might, by name association, become concerned about other entities that are affiliated in some fashion with the government, yet still remain essentially independent. I am referring to the Erie County Medical Center Corporation (ECMCC, or more commonly, ECMC), the Erie County Water Authority (ECWA), and Erie Community College (ECC).
Each of these institutions has varying degrees of financial challenges, which this blog has previously noted here, here and here. They all also have personnel issues. Even as public institutions, they pay very substantial salaries to some very well connected political people.
The recent news about ECMC has mostly been about the computer hacking that shut down the hospital’s computer system. The final bill to get things up and running again is going to be enormous, both for IT costs as well as for some lost revenues from such things as delays or cancellations of elective surgery, the manual recording of documents and so forth. There was even a bit of art imitating life in this situation. Three days before ECMC’s computers went down the NBC drama Chicago Med had an episode about the show’s hospital having its computers shut down by a ransomware attack. Catch it on-demand for a view of what happens during a cyberattack at a medical facility.
ECMC’s 2016 Annual Report has been released. A lot of it is just a resuscitation of self-congratulatory press releases. There are the statistics about finances, visits, discharges and other generic health care data. And then there are a couple tables that reveal how the corporation is structured and how it spends its money.
The state law that created the corporation requires that the organization must, as part of its Annual Report, document all annual salaries of $100,000 or greater as well as all contracts for dollar amounts above the same threshold.
When I wrote a post last year about ECMC’s 2015 Annual Report I noted a cute bureaucratic trick when it came to listing the $100,000-plus salaries. Instead of sorting the data by last name, or title, or highest to lowest salary – normal ways to present such information – they sorted the $100,000+ club by the middle initial of the group members, making it harder to find some people. I can report that for the 2016 Report the organization took a step toward improved transparency by sorting the large-salaried folks alphabetically by last names!
There are 263 people (out of a total full-time-equivalent workforce of 3,258) in the $100,000+ group. Most, of course, are doctors, nurses and other credentialed health care providers. I was drawn to the administrative folks whose positions are listed. Here are some highlights:
- CEO Tom Quatroche — $762,085 (up from $725,000 in the previous report)
- General Counsel (Regular Part-Time) Anthony Colucci III — $527,825 (up from $451,000); there are also staff counsels at $126,153 and $132,307
- Senior Vice President of Operations Jarrod Johnson — $261,019
- Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Peter Cutler — $141,852 (he was hired in the spring of 2016 so this is likely for part of 2016; his predecessor was paid $211,078)
- Chief Financial Officer Stephan Gary — $449,039; there is also a controller at $173,360; a director of finance at $120,092; and a budget director at $118,001
- Chief Human Resources Officer — $259,616 and a Vice President of Compensation and Benefits at $144,749
In addition to the salaries of those who are currently employed, ECMC in 2016 paid out a combined total of $950,000 to their former CEO and Senior VP of Operations
Speaking of big numbers, there a lot of very large ones in ECMC’s list of $100,000+ annual contracts. Here is a sampling:
- LPCiminelli — $6,100,111 for construction and equipment
- The Buffalo Bills — $795,000 for advertising
- Colucci, Gallaher (Anthony Colucci’s firm) $654,694 for legal services
- Roach, Brown — $465,401 for legal services
- Magavern, Magavern & Grimm — $164,983 for legal services
- Freed Maxick — $823,138 for accounting services
- Three IT consulting firms with contracts totaling $1,322,951
I will repeat the disclaimer I included in reporting on the 2015 Annual Report. I am not questioning the quality of medical service provided at the hospital. It is excellent.
The corporation, of course, may want to talk about how the positions have been filled, but some of the most prominent came from the ranks of a former Hamburg Town Councilman and community college administrator, a person who has held political jobs in city and state government, and a politically connected attorney. ECMC is still a public institution.
Speaking of folks who like to spend someone else’s money…
Outgoing Authority Chairman Earl Jann has applied for the position of executive director, which pays $145,000 annually. The qualifications required for the position, as the Buffalo News has noted, are a bit loose. It certainly makes it easy to make such an appointment when the Board of Directors doesn’t worry too much about qualifications.
I have noted three things in previous posts on the ECWA: (1) it is essentially a small public works department that should be rolled into Erie County government; (2) viewing it as a small public works department, the salaries are way out of line with those of other public works positions in county government; and (3) there are way too many duplicative administrative positions in an organization that is as small as the Water Authority.
The commissioner of the Erie County Department of Public Works is paid a salary of $131,317 or $14,000 less than the executive director of the Water Authority. The County DPW has 40 percent more employees than does the ECWA, with a much broader agenda of responsibilities. But, as they say in TV infomercials, there is more.
Noah’s Ark only took on two of each species of animal, and Noah was planning on their procreation. Not having such needs, the ECWA nonetheless likes to pile up administrators with duties that are like carbon copies of one another. Consider this:
- The Authority has an executive director at $145,000, plus a deputy director at $147,574; a director of administration at $138,399; and a deputy director of administration at $126,750
- The Authority has four human resource executives who make a total of $427,076
The Authority has also contracted with Michael Caputo’s public relations firm for $60,000 per year. The responsibilities, as noted on The Investigative Post, seem to include hiding information from the public and escorting reporters out of public meetings.
The Erie County Legislature could appeal to state government to repeal the legislation that created the Authority and simply make the Authority a department of county government. The legislators could then brag about how they reduced the water rates for the tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses that get their water from this public monopoly. Ahh, but why would they want to do that?
The Board of Trustees of Erie Community College shortly will approve its 2017-18 budget and send it along to the County Executive and the County Legislature for approval. It will be the last budget presented by former Congressman and retiring ECC President Jack Quinn.
Quinn, however, seems to be content to let others at the College do the work of completing the budget. He is reportedly on a two-week vacation and only reachable in emergencies.
Budget preparation is in the able hands of administrative vice president Bill Reuter. In Bill rests the institutional knowledge of the school and an intimate understanding of the school’s finances. That knowledge will soon be gone. Bill will be moving to a new position at Hudson Valley Community College.
The College continues to struggle with declining enrollment and the draining of ECC’s fund balance. Given the new opportunity that Governor Cuomo’s “free tuition” plan offers students looking to attend college full-time, it seems likely that ECC might also lose some new students to four-year institutions like Buffalo State, the University at Buffalo, or other state schools.
Quinn’s replacement will come from the results of a national search. The search firm will produce several candidates for the college’s search committee to review.
The members of that committee have been required to sign confidentiality agreements – shades of Donald Trump! Given that the college’s students, faculty and staff, as well as the county taxpayers who pay for a portion of the school’s annual budget, might have an interest in the important search process, confidentiality agreements don’t seem to be something that suggests transparency.
Interestingly, the search committee includes six school trustees, but not even one of them is among the three current members who were appointed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Great team building!
Given the recent resignation of the president of Niagara County Community College, there would seem to be a golden opportunity, with Erie and Niagara both searching for presidents, to get the two schools together to pool resources and hire a president who could lead both schools and work on a merger of the two institutions. But that would have required planning and forethought, something missing in both counties.