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Dan Hust | Democrat

SCCC Board Chair Phyllis Coombe, left, and President Mamie Howard Golladay listen as legislators air their displeasure with college leadership at Thursday’s meeting.

County lambastes SCCC leaders

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 24, 2010 — Though legislators on Thursday unanimously approved paying the county’s $4 million share of Sullivan County Community College’s $17 million 2010-2011 budget, a few had some harsh words for SCCC’s administration.
Saying the county attorney’s previously released report on the debacle involving a never-built windmill at the college’s Loch Sheldrake campus “reads like an indictment,” Legislator Ron Hiatt excoriated college officials during Thursday’s regular meeting of the Legislature in Monticello.
At one point, he focused on SCCC President Mamie Howard Golladay’s signing of blank closing documents, according to Yasgur’s April report.
“[The word] ‘negligence’ is not enough,” he remarked. “‘Reckless disregard’ is what I’d call that.”
Hiatt said he has a lack of trust in college leadership, likening it to a no-confidence vote the faculty lodged against the board and administration in 2007.
“There ought to be consequences,” he pushed, though unsure of what they should be.
He also encouraged the college’s board to assert its authority.
“The tail shouldn’t wag the dog,” he remarked.
Hiatt found support in Legislator Alan Sorensen, who agreed that the windmill project (a separate effort unrelated to the experimental wind turbine already erected) demonstrates a need for more board oversight and involvement, including resurrecting long-dormant committees.
And Legislator Frank Armstrong noted that his approval of the county’s share of the college’s budget is to nurture an asset.
“My vote is strictly for the students, the college,” he told a crowd that included Golladay and SCCC Board Chair Phyllis Coombe. “... It is not in any way an endorsement of the administration. In fact, it’s just the opposite.”
Legislator David Sager made even more pointed comments, accusing college leaders of a “dereliction of duty, responsibility and oversight.”
Telling leaders he’s tired of what he feels is arrogance toward legislators, he warned them, “Your day of reckoning is coming, so hear it now.”
Some legislators, like Kathy LaBuda and Vice Chair Elwin Wood, would only say that they support the programs and presence of the college, but the undertone of deep dissatisfaction remained.
“I think there are definitely things the college now understands and would do very differently,” Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis observed.
However, he urged legislators to work with the college rather than criticize it – apparently emanating from the fact that the county does not exercise direct control over the SUNY school.
“We’re going to get much further with a less confrontational role with our community college,” he told his colleagues, asking them to direct their frustration at the state, which continues to lessen its funding for SCCC.
There was one other critic of the college who spoke, Grahamsville resident Ken Walter, whose campaign against the wind turbine (in view of his mother’s house) has morphed into a quest to root out improprieties collegewide.
He urged legislators to not approve the $4 million contribution, saying the taxpayers are tapped out.
“You can’t get any more blood from a stone,” he remarked. “... [Yet] they keep getting bigger and bigger.”
After the vote, Walter stated, “The legislators should have reduced the county’s share to $3.5 million without affecting student instruction. Instead, the college scored their requested $4 million. Taxpayer savings: $0.”
SCCC leaders respond
When contacted afterward for comment, both Golladay and Coombe took issue with many of Thursday’s criticisms.
Golladay released a statement yesterday, saying she was not convinced the statements were a direct attack on her.
“I never assume that someone is referring to me unless my name is clearly stated, and that was not the case in that meeting last week,” Golladay wrote. “Any accusations aimed at me where my name is attached to them will have to be proven.
“Regarding the alleged lack of requested information, I am reminded of the old trite adage ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ Hence, one can provide all the information in the world, but if an individual(s) is not willing to or is incapable of reading and understanding it, the fault is with that individual.
“The college has consistently provided all requested information which it has at its disposal.
“One must always consider the source when receiving any information, especially unfounded criticism, inappropriate, inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements which are uttered as facts.”
Coombe, who earlier had told legislators there’s nothing left to cut in the college’s budget (and raises are limited to contractual obligations to union members), said yesterday she was gratified by the vote but not the subsequent statements.
“I’m pleased the $4 million appropriation was approved and that the Legislature affirmed our educational mission,” she said.
However, she felt the rest of the comments should have been aired in “more appropriate forums.”
“They [Hiatt and Sager] have missed most or all of the meetings” on the windmill and the budget, Coombe charged.
“And if they needed information, why didn’t they ask?” she wondered.
Some of their info is inaccurate, she added, noting that the college is seeking to recoup about $1.5 million – not $4 million – from Atlantic Energy Solutions (AES), which promised to install the windmill but never did.
And a judge already has ruled that AES owes the college that money, plus damages, totalling a little over $2 million, she explained.
SCCC is still awaiting payment of that judgment, according to Coombe, who does not blame Golladay for the situation.
In the meantime, “we are saving roughly $200,000 a year on [energy-efficiency] work that was done by AES,” she pointed out.
Coombe believes some legislators are intent on removing Golladay from her post, though only the college board, SUNY or Golladay herself could effect such.
When asked if Golladay is considering other employment, Coombe would not comment, but she did affirm her and her board’s confidence in the president.
“Dr. Golladay is extremely knowledgeable and professional,” said Coombe. “... I think she’s done a good job under very difficult financial circumstances.”

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