Erie Community College has gone into damage and spin control now that the state audit has confirmed what I’ve been reporting for several months about how President Jack Quinn and his crew have run the college into the ground with big spending on senior staff, unauthorized job creation, and poor management practices, all conducted without any transparency.
It looks like Quinn has made it through the audit crisis without much change with the only real casualty so far his $117,500 legal affairs chief, Kristin Klein Wheaton, whose resignation gave county lawmakers the scape goat they needed to back off on Quinn, and they have, at least so far. We hear her job has already been posted, giving Quinn another plum appointment, replacing Wheaton who acted pretty much as his inside hatchet man (or woman, in this case).
Now another politician who had to be embarrassed by the audit report, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, is trying to show the public that he is tightening the county’s oversight of the public college with a series of requests contained in a letter to Quinn.
In his letter, the county executive says he wants a list of titles, salaries, and starting dates for all senior staff for 2015 and 2016 “as well as any additional pay/stipend, cash bonuses, dues for clubs, parking privileges, travel or hospitality allowance, 24hour or daytime access to an Erie County/ECCowned vehicle, etc.” Poloncarz is also requesting that any additional compensation or benefits each person receives from ECC, the ECC Foundation and/or the Auxiliary Services Corporation, if any, be included in the list.
In addition, Poloncarz wants a copy of all con tracts that the senior staff, including Quinn, have with the college.
Also, Poloncarz wants ECC to submit its bud get proposal to his office for review and the legislature’s approval in the form of a four year financial plan similar to what’s required of the county in its submission to the county control board.
Asked about the Poloncarz requests, ECC Board Chairman Steve Boyd said “I directed President Quinn to provide the requested in formation. We were criticized in the audit for transparency issues and I see no reason not to fulfill his request.”
Boyd said he would have to confer with the other members of the board on the fouryear plan, saying “we have a very active Strategic and Assessment Committee chaired by Vice Chair Dennis Murphy. Dennis is also leading the blue ribbon panel that will develop our response to the audit,” that is due April 14th.
Boyd, who is expected to leave as chairman in June, said he knows the college needs more support and “we’ll work with the county to the extent provided we can,” noting that under State Education Law and in accordance with ECC’s Middle States accreditation there needs to be some separation between the board and the sponsors.
Erie County currently kicks in about 15.6 per cent (less than $18 million) of the ECC bud get, a contribution that is far below the 26.7 percent of the budge it should be providing under the state’s community college funding formula. But the results of the state audit de tailing financial secrecy and unauthorized job creation and raises handed out by Quinn cer tainly make it tough to ask taxpayers to kick in more money to the college in its current state of crisis. In other words, the challenge will be for ECC to be more responsible and account able in its spending going forward if it wants the county to live up to its responsibilities.
While the postaudit give and take goes on, another round of tuition hikes is expected when the new budget proposal is released in the next several weeks, reflecting a continuing decline in enrollment. The burden of the poor management and hefty salary packages are now falling heaviest on students.
In his letter, Poloncarz told Quinn, the former congressman who earns the largest public sal ary ($192,500) in the area, that he wants all future budget submissions to include a line byline identification of all positions, not in a lump sum amount covering administration, saying ECC is a publicly run and supported institution for higher education and that in formation should be included.
The county executive would also like to see a 10-member (5 from county, 5 ECC) planning committee established to “better address the needs of the college and the greater community.”
Sources at the college say the mood has im proved among workers but many are still suspicious that Quinn and company have gotten away with what they have done over the last several years despite the strong audit, and that so far county officials have not really come down hard enough on the administration to make a difference. We’ll keep you posted.