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A challenge to integrity; Mansouri's bid for contract at ECC conflicted with his role as trustee

Hormoz Mansouri does pretty well by Erie County government. Mansouri, you'll recall, is the deep-pocketed political donor whose engineering and architectural firm assists developers in projects, some on a large scale. When Joel A. Giambra was county executive the two were close, and Mansouri's EI Team was often hired to assist the county with its undertakings. The EI Team also has been involved with Erie County Medical Center's expansion of its campus on Grider Street.

Considering this, Mansouri looked kind of acquisitive by seeking a contract to help build a $30 million academic building planned for the Erie Community College North Campus. Actually, Mansouri looked acquisitive and conflicted because he has served on the college's board of trustees since Giambra put him there in 2004.

Everyone involved seemed to agree it was a bad idea to let a trustee sign a contract with the college system he helps direct. Everyone except Mansouri. He told our reporter that he would have abstained from voting on the matter, and he would derive no personal extra gain should EI Team have been hired. Yet it's hard to believe he does not benefit from the overall financial health of his company, and that he wouldn't have tried to run interference should disputes arise between the EI Team and overseers at the college and county government.

Further, imagine the appearance: A college trustee's firm is hired by the college to help erect its first new academic structure in years? Remember, the building will be financed primarily with taxpayer dollars. Fortunately, the Public Officers Law bars even the appearance of a conflict, and the contract went elsewhere. Meanwhile, the project has been delayed because the State Assembly did not button up the state's contribution to the undertaking in the recently adopted state budget. Like so much else with Erie County, politics was probably at play.

While the other trustees had the good sense not to go with Mansouri's EI Team, their public posture about the matter fails to impress. The trustees who chose to criticize Mansouri's potential involvement lacked the temerity to link their names to their comments. The trustees are charged with protecting the integrity of the institution in myriad ways, and their need to comment only from the shadows was feeble and bordering on gutless. The public deserves a more forthright attitude.

As a businessman, Mansouri should, among other things, seek to protect his company's good name. One doesn't do that by manipulating the inside track and scoring contracts while running roughshod over an obvious conflict of interest. He would do well to stay clear of ECC contracts in the future and consider whether his current dislike for the project -- "there are other items needed at that campus," he says -- has been colored by the fact he didn't get the work.

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