Add an inquiry by the Onondaga County District Attorney to the growing list of investigations into SUNY Upstate Hospital for the way top executives helped themselves to additional pay of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The former President of SUNY Upstate Medical University, Dr. David Smith, stepped down after it became public that he was being accused of padding his paycheck with funds from two companies with multi-million dollar contracts with the hospital he was leading. Then his top financial officer stepped down amid a similar allegation. Today Syracuse.com reported a third member of Smith's inner circle was adding to her six figure salary.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the Board of Trustees adopted changes in compensation policies last Friday in rapid response to the SUNY Upstate controversy. That is a bit like the fox guarding the hen house. It rings as a hollow promise that this is all the reform that is needed to set the publicly funded SUNY system on the right track.
It is already absurd that agencies that are funded by public tax dollars feel compelled to shell out salaries of $625,000 a year as they were to Dr. David Smith. If a professional wishes to grab all the money they can as they advance through their career the private sector is where they should work. There is an arrogance that is apparent when a group of leaders of an institution funded out of our pockets feels the multiple six figure salaries they receive are not high enough for the irreplaceable talent they offer.
The conflict of interest in this case is clear to anyone who hears the facts. It was likely clear to Dr. Smith and colleagues at one point. But, then they talked among themselves, avoided reporting to the higher ups in Albany and went ahead and accepted the additional pay.
State Comptroller Tom Dinapoli is now doing an audit to track from where the money came, when was it paid and was what was the timing relevant to the contracts awarded. The Onondaga County District Attorney will look at much of the same information with a specific eye on whether any laws were broken. Breaking SUNY rules is one matter, violating the law could be another.
Then there is State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Several calls to his press office have not been returned as I inquired whether they are investigating. In fact, they have not disclosed to Onondaga County prosecutors whether a criminal investigating is taking place out of Albany.
Taxpayers deserve a full disclosure of the flow of this money that has been quaintly labeled as padding a paycheck. The State University system should cooperate fully and not pretend that everything is fine because they have changed their policies for the future.
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