IG Asks For End To External Audit By SUNY (Updated)

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher this afternoon caleld for special meeting of the Board of Trustees in order to discuss the system’s Research Foundation the same day Inspector General Ellen Biben announced she would audit the organization.

At the same time, Biben has asked SUNY call off an external audit, which is looking at Research President John O’Connor, the alleged no-show job to Sen. Joe Bruno’s daughter Susan and the American Ditchley Foundation — a move that Zimpher embraced.

Earlier this month, the Commission on Public Integrity alleged O’Connor gave Bruno a “no-show” consultancy job. O’Connor is asking Biben to open an investigation into the CPI, including leaks to the press and its handling of ethics inquiries.

Here’s the full statement:

“Upon consultation with the chairman of the Board, SUNY is calling for a special meeting of the SUNY Board of Trustees on Friday, June 3, to discuss an outside expert’s report on the Research Foundation and its relationship with the University.

“Separately, SUNY has been asked by the Inspector General to cease pursuing an external audit or any other audit activity surrounding John O’Connor and the Ditchley Foundation. The Office of the Inspector General has informed us that they will undertake a review of these and other matters. We fully endorse this action, find it eminently responsible, and pledge our total cooperation.”

Cuomo Withdraws State From Secure Communities Program

As NY1 scooped earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is suspending the state’s participating in the controversial immigration-tracking program known as Secure Communities.

“There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.”

Some state leaders have signaled growing concerns in recent days over the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that is designed to find illegal immigrants accused of felony crimes.

However, civil liberties and immigrant-rights groups have said the program is flawed and possibly illegal.

Cuomo said in the statement that his office has received complaints about the program also from law enforcement officials, who believe the program’s usefulness is an hindrance to fighting crime.

And he said the Department of Homeland Security has failed to provide “basic information” about the workings of the program.

Earlier today, Cuomo dodged a question about whether the state would withdraw from the program, saying only it was being looked at.

SUNY Touts Its Economic Impact

The State University system today released a long and detailed study of the economic impact on local communities and the state by its 62 campuses.

Ther report came the same day that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and legislative leaders held a public meeting to discuss SUNY 2020, a grant program designed to aid the major university centers of Albany, Buffalo, Binghamton and Stony Brook.

The grant program will initially consist of $35 million per campus, with $20 million being distributed by the Empire State Development Corp.

How SUNY Matters

Labor Groups To Use Resources To Push For Same-Sex Marriage

Representatives from CSEA, PEF, NYSUT, SEIU, and others joined the Empire State Pride Agenda’s push to convince the legislature to pass a same-sex marriage bill by the end of the session.

ESPA

Mary Sullivan, Executive Vice President of CSEA (pictured on the far left), said her organization decided to take a stand as a service to their members, some of whom are in the LGBT community.

“Labor has always been out in the forefront of human rights issues and social justice issues,” said Sullivan.

“(Our members) deserve to be represented just like all the other members we represent. They want this bill. Their unions are supporting their desire to have this bill.”

Unions are often a welcome ally to a cause because of their ability to organize and mobilize. Sullivan says the groups will do anything asked by ESPA to help push lawmakers to pass a bill.

“If we need to go out and leaflet, if we need to go door to door to get this legislation passed, if we need to go camp out on some Republican Senators’ doorstep, we’ll do it,” Sullivan added.

When Investigations Collide

What to make of this…

At 2:05 p.m., the TU’s Jim Odato reported that state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had directed his auditors to do a comprehensive investigation of the SUNY Research Foundation following allegations by the Public Integrity Commission that its president, John O’Connor, had violated the Public Officers Law by giving ex-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s daughter a no-show job.

O’Connor has taken a leave and is suing the PIC.

According to DiNapoli spokesman Dennis Tompkins, the probe will focus on employment, hiring practices and the payroll of the billion dollar foundation.

In light of the recent announcement by DiNapoli and AG Eric Schneiderman that they will be teaming up to fight public corruption, it’s a fair assumption any findings from the SUNY Foundation audit would be referred to the AG’s office.

At 2:27 p.m., the following report moved on the wires:

A letter obtained by The Associated Press says the state inspector general has taken the lead in investigating claims against a vice chancellor of the State University of New York.

Inspector General Ellen Biben’s letter to SUNY officials says she’ll investigate the case of John O’Connor, who is also president of the SUNY Research Foundation…Biben’s letter also tells SUNY and the Research Foundation to end their reviews and audits of O’Connor work. SUNY directed the action last week.

She also tells the SUNY chancellor and board to turn over any evidence of wrongdoing. Biben is also looking at O’Connor’s outside employment.

The IG is, of course, an appointee of the governor. Biben worked for Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the AG’s office.

Cuomo: One Way Or The Other, Albany Will Be Cleaned Up

Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not give details on the progress of talks over a possible ethics bill agreement, but did say he was still prepared to unleash a Moreland Commission on state legislators if they failed to approve a measure.

“I said if we don’t pass an ethics bill a Moreland Commission I think is an appropriate vehicle to pursue the same goals. One way or the other, we will have a vehicle to cleanup Albany,” Cuomo said following a meeting on SUNYNY2020.

As Liz reported earlier, a potential ethics package could include disclosure of direct clients who have business before the state, a duel executive-legislative ethics commission and more specific disclosure of outside income.

But as Cuomo has said ad infinitum about nearly every piece of legislation, there’s no agreement until one is firmly in place — adding that doesn’t want to negotiate through the press.

“We do not have a three-way agreement yet on any of these issues. I’m optimistic that we’re going to have accomplishments by the end of this session,” Cuomo said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, also indicated that he was confident an agreement could be announced soon.

“We’re not there ‘til we’re there,” Silver said. “The governor and I are there but we’re trying to negotiate a three-way package with the Senate.”

“It’s a big bill, it’s an important bill and I’m confident we’ll get there,” he added.

Creature Of Habit

The Eliot Spitzer diet: Eat the same thing over and over again until your wife tells you it’s time to switch up the menu.

Actually, the former governor-turned-CNN host, who is a pretty skinny guy, might be on to something there. An oft-repeated weight-loss tip is to establish a pattern of eating and not deviate from that (theory: this helps count calories and leave little room for error and/or cheating).

Reed: Nation ‘Doomed’ Without Medicare Reform

In case you didn’t believe the House GOP leadership’s claim that it will NOT be backing down on Medicare reform just because of the outcome of a single special election in the far reaches of New York.

Check out what Rep. Tom Reed (NY-29) has to say on the matter at about the 1:05-minute mark in this report by YNN Rochester’s Casey Bortnick.

“We have to deal with this entitlement spending issue,” the freshman GOP congressman said. “…If what we conclude from this race that we cannot talk about these problems, that we have to be dishonest with the American people, then our nation is doomed.”

“Because the problem is that large and we’re not making this up. And I can assure you that we are not down here in Washington, D.C. to take Medicare away from our seniors.”

A number of GOP strategist have suggested that Rep. Paul Ryan jumped the gun with his Medicare overhaul proposal, saying the party should have done a better job at selling the problem of an underfunded, yet beloved, program to the American public before getting behind a potential solution.

Animal Lovers Lobby For Tougher Abuse Laws

Dozens of animal advocates, along with their four-legged friends, are working their way through the Capitol today to lobby for several bills that would toughen animal cruelty laws in New York as part of the first-ever Animal Advocacy Day.

peanut

Some of the bills expected to be taken up in the Senate and Assembly would expand on the 1999 Buster’s Law, which made aggravated cruelty to animals a felony, to include a psychiatric evaluation requirement following conviction. Other bills would also require offenders to be placed on a registry of animal abusers and increase penalties for animal fighting.

Several lawmakers pushing the legislation brought their dogs to the event including Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R-Saratoga), who was accompanied by his Corgi, Gracie, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) and her dog, Peanut (seen above), and Sen. Greg Ball (R-Carmel), who called his “first love” Hanna to the stage to stand next to him.

“She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s loyal and she doesn’t ask me to take out the trash,” Ball joked. “People wonder why I’m still single.”

Ball and Tedisco urged advocates to visit individual lawmakers’ offices throughout the day to make sure all of the bills make to the floor of both houses for a vote.

32BJ Praises Cuomo On Secure Communities Withdrawal

32BJ of the Service Employees International Union is praising the reported news that Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to temporarily withdraw the state from the federal government’s controversial “Secure Communities” program.

The program, which federal officials say makes it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track and monitor illegal immigrants, has come under fire from civil libertarians.

From Hector Figueroa, Secretary Treasurer of 32BJ:

“Governor Cuomo is right to suspend implementation of the deeply flawed Secure Communities program which does nothing to make anyone any safer. By targeting the people who take care of the sick and elderly, baby-sit our children and perform many of the jobs we all count on, Safer Communities runs counter to the best interests of our cities and towns.

“By pushing immigrants further into the shadows, and driving a wedge between them and everyone else, Safer Communities is actually undermining our security by destroying the trust police depend on with residents to do their job. Furthermore, asking police to take on immigration enforcement at a time of severe and crippling cuts to local services is a distraction few cities and towns can afford.

Cuomo is expected to make a full and formal announcement later this week.