Forget, for the moment, the potential legal ramifications of the revelations about Niagara County Community College’s “system” – and we use the word loosely – for hiring contractors for its culinary institute in Niagara Falls. Those issues will be sorted out in time.
For now, it’s enough to observe that the project was corrupted simply from a public policy standpoint – conducted abusively, in the dark and with authority vested in only one person. That’s asking for trouble.
Not surprisingly, trouble has come knocking.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating whether the contract process for the $17 million project was tainted. The college’s board is also investigating the contract, hiring the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm to look into possible irregularities in the 2011 construction project.
Emails clearly document what is, at a minimum, terrible judgment. The messages, mainly between college President James P. Klyczek and two vice presidents, depict an effort to direct contracts to favored companies, including Cannon Design and the law firm of Harris Beach.
It gets even more convoluted – and, hence, suspicious – given that an executive of LPCiminelli, the contracting company that was eventually hired, was a member of the NCCC board at the time. Kevin C. Schuler is the former LP Ciminelli senior vice president who was among those indicted in the RiverBend case alleging contracting irregularities.
And still more strangeness: Daniel C. Oliverio, attorney for LPCiminelli, said that even though Schuler was on the board, he played no role in the awarding of the contract. According to Oliverio, that’s because the board never voted on the contract. The decision to hire LPCiminelli was made by Klyczek.
Perhaps worst of all is what appears to be a not-so-veiled threat by Klyczek to the jobs of Vice Presidents Randyll Bowen and William C. Schickling if they didn’t change a bidding process for legal services. Klyczek expressed displeasure that Harris Beach didn’t bid on the project and wanted the rules changed.
Responding to Klyczek, Schickling wrote: “We could start over or extend if we received no responses to our RFP, or if the responses we received were inadequate. I don’t see how we can start over or extend without even looking at the three responses we received. That would clearly be ‘rigging’ of the procurement process.”
Klyczek wouldn’t have it, according to the emails received by The Buffalo News. “Well at this point I’m trying to save some jobs right here and now!! As I already suggested we are to reconfigure as needed then and reissue.” So instructed the president of a public college in New York State.
Similarly, in apparently seeking to direct an engineering and construction design contract to Cannon, Klyczek asked Bowen if Schickling understood the need for what is known as a sole source justification memo.
Bowen responded doubtfully: “Not really. However he understands our point of view. He would prefer us to at least do the charade of an RFP process and then select Cannon.”
Plainly, if college leaders were even contemplating a “charade” of a process, the college had interests other than the public’s in mind as it pursued these contracts. What those interests were will be telling.
However the U.S. Attorney’s investigation unfolds, the college board needs to establish or enforce clear rules on conflicts of interest, transparent decision-making and ethical management. In that way, it can at least decrease the likelihood of future legal difficulties, even as it contends with the existing ones.