Revisiting ECC issues

Patience is something that I have come to know as a very important virtue when dealing with Erie Community College. When you are looking for information for a blog post, or trying to figure out why the school administrators and those with oversight responsibilities over the institution have a different view of facts about the institution, it can be very frustrating.

On January 5th I filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the College, asking the following:

  1. The total dollar amount of tuition payments received from registered students for the fall 2018 semester, as of December 31, 2018; and comparable information for the fall 2017 semester.
  2. The total number of students registered for the fall 2018 semester who lived in the Canisius College dormitories; and the number of students scheduled to live in the Canisius dormitories for the spring 2019 semester.
  3. The total dollar amount that President Dan Hocoy received in 2018 as his bonus, per terms of his contract.
  4. A copy of the December 2018 Board policy concerning staff telecommuting.

I was informed that it would take 20 days to respond to my request. I said thank you.

After 19 days the school FOIL officer informed me on January 24th that it would take up to an additional 20 days to reply to my questions. On January 28th I posted an article commenting on the delay, noting that the four requested pieces of information did not seem so terribly difficult to produce.

On the 39th day after the original filing of the FOIL request the reply came.

Here are the responses from the College to the four questions noted above, preceded by some background commentary:

FOIL Question 1. ECC has seen declining enrollments for the past several years. This results in lower tuition income, which the school is heavily dependent on. Lower income affects program offerings and maintenance of facilities. Fund balances diminish.One way to determine what the facts are in this situation is to look at actual revenues for the Fall 2018 and compare them with the previous time period. Thus, my question number 1.

The meeting agendas for the school’s Board of Trustees include several pages referred to as the Financial Dashboard. Here is what the Financial Dashboard report about tuition revenues for the months October and November 2018 compared with the Fall of 2017:

October Report — down $1,502,501 or 7.2 percent

November Report — down $2,989,340 or 10.7 percent

But then, here is how the School responded to question 1 about the Fall 2018 tuition:

attached document created from reviewing financial data.  Currently, this data resides in three different systems, so there is no standard report, it requires manual analysis of these three sources to calculate the numbers.

Fall 2018 Tuition payments received: $25,941,820

Fall 2017 Tuition payments received: $25,436,978

This indicates that, reversing the reported results through October and November 2018 as contained in the Financial Dashboards, the College’s tuition revenues for the Fall 2018 semester, through December 2018, were up $504,842 or 2 percent over 2017-18.

The school’s 2018-19 budget documents said their finances were okay and enrollment would be about level compared with the 2017-18 year. Thus level income was anticipated for the current year. That rosy picture, however, was contradicted by internal enrollment information showing that there would be another significant drop in the Fall 2018 semester. School administrators have publically reported that all is fine, but they informed county legislators that there was in fact a drop in enrollment.

So apparently the school had a great December in collecting tuition. The next Board of Trustees meeting is not until March 28. We’ll see then what their Financial Dashboard reports on tuition revenue through December 31.

What appears to be a successful Fall semester in terms of tuition revenue makes the internal documents about declining enrollment for the Spring 2019 semester an even more interesting question.

FOIL Question 2.  When ECC and Canisius College announced last summer that Canisius would rent dormitory rooms to ECC students, both institutions hailed it as a major achievement, producing substantial income for Canisius, a lesser amount of income for ECC, and of course, the benefits of dormitory life for the ECC students who would be dorming. ECC athlete/students and international students were expected to be the main users of the facilities. The contract between the two schools indicated that ECC would need to pay Canisius in September for the full cost of the rooms that were occupied. Thus question 2 about the number of ECC dormers.

Here is the College’s response to Question 2:

attached document …is a roster for each semester pulled from our student system. All personal information (names of students) were removed, since we do not have a public student directory that would warrant disclosure of that information, so essentially these serve to show you the numbers for the counts below.

Fall 2018 semester: 55 students [4 students left during the semester]

Spring 2019 semester: 32 students

In a previous post I speculated that the dormitory program has been shifted to Daemen College for the Spring semester. The student roster provided by ECC, however, still lists the Canisius Delavan Townhouses as the location.

FOIL Question 3.  Salaries of officials at public institutions are a matter of public record. ECC President Dan Hocoy receives a base salary of $229,500 with various perks including a vehicle. His total compensation also includes an annual bonus of up to $25,000, $5,000 of which is guaranteed.

The College’s response to Question 3 about the amount of bonus Hocoy received in 2018: $10,000

To put that response in perspective, here from Hocoy’s contract is the Board of Trustees Evaluation for President Hocoy’s Incentive Bonus (2017-2020) [what appear to be typos are in the original document]:

The President is subject to an annual ECC Presidential Performance Appraisal by the Board. In each year of the Agreement, the President shall also be eligible to receive an incentive pay of up to 25,000 of which $5,000 is guaranteed. The performance evaluation and determination of the incentive pay for the preceding contract year will take place at the June Board meeting. Incentive Compensation will be distributed within 2 pay cycles or 30 days after evaluation.

The incentive pay is discretionary by the Board of Trustees, and is based upon the Board’s assessment of the President’s overall performance during the preceding year, measured as follows:

  • The President will receive incentive pay of $25,000 if the President receives a rating of “significantly exceeds” or “exceeds expectations” on 100% of voting board member’s evaluations of his performance. *
  • The President will receive incentive pay of $20,000 if the President receives a rating of “significantly exceeds” or “exceeds expectations’ on 80% of voting board member’s evaluations of his performance. *
  • The President will receive incentive pay of $15,000 if the President receives a rating of “significantly exceeds” or “exceeds expectations” on 60% of voting board member’s evaluations of his performance. *
  • The President will receive incentive pay of $10,000 if the President receives a rating of “meets expectations” or better on 60% of board member’s evaluations of his performance. *
  • If the president does not meet any of the performance indicators above, he will receive the guaranteed incentive pay of $5,000, per the employment agreement.

*A minimum quorum of six (6) Board Members are required.

FOIL Question 4, in retrospect, didn’t need to be included in my FOIL request. I asked for a copy of a Board of Trustees policy approved in December 2018 which codified and liberalized the ability of the College’s senior staff to work at home.

The December Board agenda included that policy in the backup documentation. It says in part: Though telecommuting/remote work is a viable option for certain employees and positions, it is not an entitlement. At the sole discretion of SUNY Erie executive management, telecommuting is an option that can be offered, modified or revoked by SUNY Erie at any time or for any reason… Further, for a variety of reasons, telecommuting will not be extended to all employees, regardless of the work performed. Non-exempt employees, for example, are not eligible to telecommute… Management generally will determine the specific procedures for evaluating, approving or denying a telecommuting request in a manner consistent with this policy.

So the questions are, how often will this new benefit be used, and what is the benefit to the school in allowing it? How can you run a college from home?

A review of the Board of Trustees agenda for February 7th included another interesting policy matter. There was a proposal to allow the College president to spend up to $50,000 for the hiring of consultants without prior approval of the Board. The item was tabled.

The point of all these FOIL inquiries as well as previously reported ones is to highlight serious financial and operational matters that significantly impact the College’s work and its opportunities for success. Some factors affecting financial and operational activities are within the control of the College, but others are not.

The State of New York’s “free tuition” program probably has a negative effect on ECC’s enrollment since “free tuition” may encourage prospective students who might otherwise go to ECC to instead choose a four-year school in the SUNY system.

The same might be said for the “Say Yes” program, which also provides financial incentives for students to look beyond just SUNY schools. It will take some time to determine whether “free tuition” or “Say Yes” are really successful at not just getting students into college, but also in getting them to complete two or four year programs. It will take several years to get hard data on student retention and graduation.

Given these issues, as well as the shrinking pipeline of future Western New York students who might go to college, it is really important that the ECC Board of Trustees and Erie County officials think out of the box. The school can continue to play an important role in education, but that role may not be exactly the one the institution is playing today. It may need to go back to the future.

The question about what is a manageable number of campuses that ECC can successfully operate needs to be seriously examined. Opportunities for mergers with other Western New York community colleges should to be explored and implemented. This is something SUNY trustees could facilitate with incentives, or if need be, disincentives.

The only given is that what exists now will not continue to work in the future.

Trump: The Movie

Today’s post is a limerick authored by Politics and Other Stuff Editor Paul Fisk.

By Paul Fisk

Donald Trump is now causing us stress
Doing things we’ve never had to address
Alt-right thought it groovy
To produce “Trump: The Movie”
Now how do we get out of this mess?

Nursed on silver spoon rather than nipple
Or would not have caused any ripple
Thought he’d made a great play
But just as they say
Born on third base; claimed he’d just hit a triple

Devastated that he had to demur
And was forced by Draft Board to defer
He’d just love to enlist
If they didn’t insist
He was barred by that pesky bone spur

This con man was really all show
Proclaimed savior encased in gold glow
Saw himself as just glorious
But became notorious
For not paying folks he did owe

A patriot claimed through and through
Says was born to serve only you
He’d fight for your rights
Wear a cape and orange tights
Some believed that this was all true

If your audience you want to be wooing
And to keep your supporters from booing
Your opponents you decry
Then proclaim a big lie
And accuse them of what YOU are doing

On even minor things his lies don’t cease
In his ongoing quest us to fleece
BMI Index tight
Lied about weight and height
To appear one pound shy of obese

There are those who still believe all his jive
And all things that he does contrive
So they lap up his lies
And applaud what he tries
Drinking not KoolAid but Cult 45

Give rich millions promised downward to trickle
To be played with or saved by the fickle
Claim economy will grow
Though our history does show
Those below might at best see a nickel

Before Reagan came to the fore
Growth went to rich, middle and poor
But since then all new gains
Went to those with the reins
And the rich have received even more

We’ve shrunken our old middle class
And chosen the poor to harass
We’ve lowered the chances
Others may see advances
And rigged barriers they cannot surpass

We all know that he’s a bit kinky
With a reputation really quite stinky
So his claims to hire the best
Are as false as the rest
Look at Pruitt, Tom Price, and of course Zinke

In his bedroom alone he’s sublime
“Stable genius” in a Fox pantomime
Seeks validation on the phone
And tweets from the throne
Then calls it “Executive Time”

Tariff steel, aluminum, what’s next, Honda?
Or belated attacks on Jane Fonda?
With no thought or reflection
Spout another deflection
Like banning all aid to Wakanda

With insults and boasts that he’s hurled
We watched as folks hair became curled
With a frown on our brow
We realize he’s now
The laughing stock of the free world

Lips moving, so can’t believe a thing
Yet cultists will still kiss his ring
Moved by Coulter and Hannity
To borderline insanity
He’s clearly the real Lyin’ King

With thoughtlessness leaving us heady
And a keel that was far from steady
Thought shut down would be fun
Then learned what he’d done
His signature: “Fire, Aim, Ready”

A big wall is his policy fave
And he swears that he will not cave
Nancy’s not a meek mouse
Now that Dems have the House
Will the wall withstand the Blue Wave?

He owned casinos in a city of sins
Lost them all to history’s dust bins
Now facing the new Speaker
He’s considerably weaker
He should know that the House always wins

In the wake of the Democratic insurgency
Trump touted the wall need with urgency
Claimed now we must act
With no basis in fact
And doesn’t realize that HE’s the emergency

In trouble over business or sex
To recover from his own train wrecks
To settle bills that he gets
Or pay campaign debts
He’d write out foundation checks

Thinking he had nothing to lose
We now find out from the news
That without lamentation
He used his foundation
To pay his son’s Boy Scout dues

And that’s not all, he did more
Things that we now all abhor
Disregarding all strictures
He bought his own pictures
And hung them for guests to adore

He may claim that he wasn’t involved
In foundation’s crimes to be solved
But he ran it alone
His own opportunity zone
And the court said it must be dissolved

Long in widespread criminal violation
Hopefully going on a long unpaid vacation
Justice coming to this louse
Mueller saw Animal House
And put him on double secret probation

Let’s hope from his office he’s kicked
To resolve this constant conflict
More than Mueller to fear
It’s becoming more clear
From the courts of New York’s Southern District

After dodging the war in Viet
Went to Russia to place a new bet
Now denying collusion
And sowing confusion
He still claims “nothing but nyet”

Most weekdays stuck in DC metropolis
Stomach now needing milk acidophilus
Tried to blame dossier Steele
Claimed it all wasn’t real
But truth revealed by George Papadopoulus

Don’t know yet why Russia holds sway
And Trump sides with what Putin does say
But in most every facet
He acts like an asset
Our country he now seems to betray

With no belief in the rule of law
And in what could be the last straw
With no rhyme or reason
Except possibly treason
From NATO he wants to withdraw

Trump found lumps of coal in his stocking
And more and more people him mocking
At the end of this year
He’s in greater fear
As Mueller finds the guns that were “smocking”

He loves rally supporters’ cheers ringing
But it’s bad news to Donald we’re bringing
No more rolls in the clover
Cause it’s soon to be over
Hey, Donald, the Fat Lady’s singing

He acts as if things were sublime
While denying the change in our clime
But he should really worry
And should think of a jury
As it soon will be Mueller time

He’s right to be really scared
As more sordid facts do get bared
He knows he did blow it
But asks “How’d they know it?”
And Mueller says “I just went to Jared”

So when you’re trying for discourse with tact
And your red friends reject every fact
You might just share a flask
And then simply ask
“Then why does so guilty he act?”

Shot to power by a right wing catapult
He turned the GOP into a cult
Wasn’t up to the task
Just one question left to ask
Will they try him as an adult?

Still crying “NO COLLUSION” with bluster
His denials just do not pass muster
Soon it won’t be a mystery
Why he’ll go down in history
Below Nixon, Benedict Arnold and Custer

Trump team movie is a sorrowful tale
How our country was put up for sale
Can’t we skip all these edits
And just jump to the credits
Where it tells how long each went to jail?

Economic development in New York State — a tale of two cities

Among all the public issues discussed and debated on the federal, state and local levels of government, there is major consensus about the importance of economic matters – creating jobs, stimulating the economy. Once you get past those clichés, however, there is no major consensus about what to do about such things or how to measure the benefits of public development projects.

Steve Banko and I, in a campaign in the distant past, were once assigned the duty of writing a candidate’s economic development plan. It was very long – 49 different activities. The Buffalo Courier-Express printed it in toto. And when it was done, Steve and I had a good laugh when we realized that all we had actually done was to come up with a list of 49 action verbs – develop, produce, encourage, plan, stimulate, and on and on and on.

As people prepare to go to prison for their transgressions concerning the Buffalo Billion, the state has now refocused its economic development attention on the Queens Billions. While the state is busy handing out our money, many of us are left to wonder, what is the real benefit?

Three-quarters of the Buffalo Billion went to build and outfit the mammoth building in South Buffalo where Tesla is manufacturing/promising to manufacture/ trying to figure out how to manufacture roofing panels that keep your home warm while capturing energy from the sun. Employment by Tesla and their partner at the facility, Panasonic, peaked recently at about 800. Then Tesla laid off 50 people. Their contract with the State of New York says that employment will be more than 1,400 by April 2020. Otherwise the company will be liable for tens of millions of dollars in fines.

Tesla seems to be devoting most of its attention these days on building cars, or maybe going to Mars, and those projects seem to have many of their own problems. Tesla is struggling to figure out how to perfect the solar roofing product. Their share of national solar energy product sales is diminishing. It doesn’t seem like they will be throwing a big pizza party for the 1,400th employee in South Buffalo 14 months from now.

Meanwhile in Queens, New York City, the state and city have offered Amazon about $3 billion in tax benefits and related perks to build a facility that will employ 25,000 people. Amazon seems to be in a better position to actually deliver on their jobs commitment than Tesla.

In Buffalo the offer of 1,400 jobs has been welcomed by politicians and community folks alike. In New York City, many politicians and community folks are saying take your 25,000 jobs and shove it. It must be nice.

In Buffalo politicians and business leaders are holding their breath, hoping that Tesla can deliver on what was promised. In New York politicians, particularly the local state senator who may hold the key to whether the Amazon project proceeds; plus some City Council members; plus a neighboring congresswoman, are so offended by all that Amazon and this particular development stand for that they are manning the barricades.

There were reports in the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post last week that Bezos-owned Amazon was considering pulling out of the New York City deal. Bezos-owned Amazon played down the story in the Bezos-owned Washington Post. Think back to your American history classes when very rich people controlled everything and there were such things as “interlocking directorates.” Thank goodness that such situations were so, so early twentieth century and no longer occur.

Caught In the middle of all the cross-fire in both cities is Governor Andrew Cuomo. He is not in a position to produce the promised jobs in Buffalo to continue the Tesla deal and can only hope for the best. As for the Queens deal, while Cuomo has been trending left politically he is not in a position to side with elected and community representatives to stand up to the largest company in the world after he just negotiated a deal with that company. What’s a governor to do?

There is a common thread running through both of these deals. Andrew Cuomo loves BIG projects – think of the new Tappan Zee Mario Cuomo Bridge in the Hudson Valley. But BIG is expensive, has lots of moving parts that are not easily controllable, and often attracts greedy people who are more than willing to cut corners to make tons of money for themselves. Sarah Palin might call it “crony capitalism,” while other would describe it as “corporate welfare.”

No one should expect every economic development project to turn out successfully, and there are many much smaller government financed projects other than the Tesla plant and the Amazon facility that turn out quite well. But when you gamble with three quarters of a billion public dollars or three billion public dollars you better have done your due diligence and be careful about all the details. Things like how the bidding is rigged prepared (the Buffalo Billion project); or whether a deal with the biggest corporation in America (Amazon) might set off neighbors concerned about things like the cost of housing and encourage politicians looking to promote their own anti-corporate bigness agenda.

While focusing on the two geographic ends of the State of New York, we need to pause for a moment to also consider that there are a whole lot of upstate cities and towns that look like they never got out of the 1930s, fighting their own economic development battles with lesser tools.

Bad business deals, of course, do not only or always involve governments trying to play king-maker. Think Donald Trump and company, with all their bankruptcies, stiffed contractors and projects that literally didn’t get off the ground. Well, okay, Trump Tower Moscow would have had some sort of government funding attached to it. Could Sarah Palin have seen the Trump Tower Moscow from her home in Alaska?

On a local front we continue to see battles from time-to-time about tax breaks for businesses that want to move from one community to another in a neighboring zip code, or promise new jobs that they may or may not be able to deliver on. Thankfully there has been more attention paid recently to clawbacks of public funds on the tax breaks that don’t pan out.

Massive public projects tend to attract out-of-proportion attention. Think new stadium developments that can gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars where even the traditional rallying cry of more jobs cannot be invoked with a straight face.

Then think about what good that large amounts of public money might do if re-directed into repairing roads and bridges; or reducing the costs of a college education; or encouraging anti-poverty work that can actually save money long term; or maybe just spending fewer tax dollars.

And wonder, why, and why not?

Some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets

The 2019 political calendar is already shifting into high gear. Here’s an overview of some facts, observations and heard-on-the-streets:

    • Many of the batch of Election Law revisions recently approved by the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo relate to political calendar changes, setting up a June primary date (June 25 this year) and therefore requiring much earlier deadlines for all the procedural steps related to running an election, including petitions to qualify a candidate for the ballot. Petitioning starts on February 26th.
    • A modification to the approved plans is already working its way through the legislative process. A bill has been filed that will reduce by one-quarter the number of signatures required for local elections in the state outside of New York City.
    • One item that had been anticipated but seems to be going nowhere – the elimination of fusion voting in the state. This concerns one or more of the state’s six minor parties cross endorsing either Democratic or Republican candidates. Most of such action involves the Conservative and Working Families parties. Most state legislators have been endorsed by one or the other of those parties. A spokesman for Governor Cuomo, who has also run on the Working Families line, was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying that ending fusion voting is “not something we’ve given a lot of thought to.” That sounds like a signal that nothing is going to happen.
    • Speaking of state legislators, here is tidbit from the Poughkeepsie Journal about legislators who are double dipping. This is the practice of an incumbent elected official in New York State getting re-elected to a new term; retiring from his previous term just prior to the end of the term year; applying for his or her New York State pension; and then on January first being sworn in for a new elected term, thus allowing the elected official to collect both his/her pension plus his/her salary. The report indicates that at least 20 current state legislators are following this practice. Assemblyman Angelo Morinello of Niagara Falls is on the list, receiving $41,473 in pension plus his newly increased Assembly salary of $110,000. The article does not mention Senator Pat Gallivan, probably because he began receiving his pension ($43,055) after he resigned as Erie County Sheriff in 2005, several years before he ran for the State Senate.
    • Another note about state legislators. The legislation that provides for the generous pay raises for the legislators will also restrict, starting next January, legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of their state salaries. City & State notes that Senator Michael Ranzenhofer’s annual outside income from his law practice has been in the range of $100,000 to $150,000. Assemblyman Michael Norris’ income from his law practice is in the same range. Both men might need to choose between the State Legislature and their law practice in eleven months. The restriction on outside income limitations is being challenged in court, so stay tuned.
    • The Steve Pigeon saga continues. Nearly four years after Pigeon’s home was raided by the FBI and the State Police, there is still no conclusion to the matter, and sentencing dates keep getting pushed back. On-the-street conversations have previously suggested that law enforcement authorities were particularly interested in what information Pigeon could provide about three elected officials plus recently indicted bad boy Roger Stone.
    • While inquiring minds are still wondering why Mayor Byron Brown suddenly left the chairmanship of the State Democratic Committee recently, two local men are stepping up to taking a shot at becoming state chairman of their respective parties.
    • Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy has been actively planning to challenge Ed Cox for Republican State Chairman. Cox says he is a candidate for re-election in July. Langworthy’s other prominent opponent for the position is John Jay LaValle, who is the Suffolk County Chairman. LaValle is taking a rather interesting approach to his candidacy, basically saying that the chairman should be from New York City or the surrounding suburbs since the chairman would be in easier geographic contact with the party’s money people as well as the state’s major media outlets. Meaning, it appears, that he considers an upstate candidate someone who can’t play in the big leagues. Sounds like someone who will do a great job of rebuilding a party whose base is still in upstate New York.
    • A second contest for a party chairmanship may be decided by the end of February, as Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long has announced his retirement. Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo is organizing a full court press for the job.
    • If either or both Langworthy and Lorigo are successful, the next question will be, will they continue to serve as county chairmen? Joe Crangle served as both Erie County and State Democratic Chairman during the 1970’s.
    • David Franczyk is ending his 32-year career as Buffalo’s Fillmore District Councilman and the Buffalo News reports that he is considering the possibility of running for the office of City Comptroller. His breadth of experience and knowledge about how city government works would make him well qualified for the job. An added plus would be that he has often demonstrated his independence from the other powers that be in City Hall, a characteristic he may have inherited from his late dad, Stan. Stan worked for the city for many years, and was often a gadfly when things made that approach appropriate.
    • County Legislature Chairman Peter Savage may have a primary coming up.
    • So the Buffalo area survived the “Blizzard of 2019.” Even in Williamsville, which got the heaviest snow, that event seems to have been, how should I say, overblown. But it did make for good TV optics, even if the Governor didn’t seem to be getting through very well to those truckers that he pulled over.
    • The Buffalo News again reported on what appears to be the impending failure of the Buffalo Billion centerpiece, that one million square foot monstrosity in South Buffalo where Elon Musk’s Tesla plant is producing the revolutionary roofing product that is supposed to capture electric energy while keeping your home warm. Layoffs have recently occurred at the plant. So what happens if Tesla doesn’t hit that magic 1,400 jobs target in the spring of 2020? Will the state actually collect that multi-million fine that would be attached to such a failure? And what in the world would come next for that building if the Tesla project collapses?
    • Donald Trump is planning to meet again with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, this time in Vietnam. Trump’s heel spur must have finally gotten better to allow his travel to Nam.
    • From a text a friend sent to me on Monday following the most uninspiring and boring game in the history of Super Bowls, here is the best reason I’ve seen for that lackluster event:“these teams are playing like they know whoever wins goes to the White House.”



Next time, say no to Trump

This a guest post by Steve Banko, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who has also served his country in positions in federal, state and local government.

By Steve Banko

Before anyone gets dizzy taking victory laps regarding the reopening of our government, this would be a good time to recognize the real engine behind the reopening. It was the air traffic controllers who spread the pain of the shutdown to the general public and thus impressed Congress and the White House with the critical need to stop posturing and reopen governmental services. Continue reading