Last March we reported that Erie Community College (ECC) was packed with high-priced administrators and legal staff even though it had been forced to tap reserve funds and increase tuition---again this year---to balance its budget.
In that story from March 24, we reported that ECC President Jack Quinn, who is number one on the Western New York public payroll list at $192,000, was warning of the need to implement “major emergency policy measures” to deal with the college’s looming budget crisis.
But we also noted in March that state auditors were in the final stages of the first full review of the college’s finances in 20 years, reportedly sparked by concerns raised about lax controls in managing taxpayer and student dollars at ECC. That audit began last October.
In the same story in March, a spokesman for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli told this reporter that the audit was expected to take several more weeks to complete and he would not confirm it had been sparked by complaints from local watchdogs. The spokesman, Brian Butry, sort of downplayed the seriousness of the review saying “it is a standard audit,” saying it should be completed by May or June.
A check of the calendar will reveal that May and June are long gone and there is still no audit of ECC from the state comptroller.
On Monday (Aug. 24), Mark Johnson, another spokesman for the comptroller, said in a telephone interview that it could be weeks or even months before the audit of ECC will be finished, and when pressed about the obvious delay he said “there can be various reasons.” That’s about as far as Johnson would go in trying to explain why the state audit of this financially sinking college is taking so long to complete.
We have reported previously that Kristin Klein Wheaton, ECC’s vice president for legal affairs and Quinn’s top advisor, was trying to maintain firm control over staff contact with state auditors, requiring that all contacts be documented in a special folder. In other words, according to our sources, she was riding shotgun on the state audit for her boss, Jack Quinn. Maybe it was her heavy-handed approach in dealing with state auditors that played a role in the delays.
Whatever the case, clearly the audit by the state comptroller on a college that according to most sources is in deep financial trouble is long overdue and now appears to have a red flag on its credibility even before it is released. The college keeps a tight lid on what goes on administratively, and even many board members are kept in the dark about all the outside activities of the $192,000 president who reportedly travels extensively on those outside jobs, earning at least another $140,000 as a consultant for a California-based company.
It now appears it may be weeks or even months before state investigators tell us what’s going on at the college, and the delay in completing the audit has many wondering if the politically-connected Quinn has somehow managed to back down DiNapoli’s auditors. So far, we have nothing from the state auditors on a financial review of a small, two-year college that began nearly a year ago and may not be completed before the start of another county budget cycle in October that many will be watching when it comes to aid for ECC. C’mon, Mr. State Comptroller, what’s going on?