SANBORN, N.Y. (WIVB) — A measure to place the president of Niagara County Community College on administrative leave fell one vote short Thursday, following a lengthy executive session.
The college’s Board of Trustees voted 5-4 to “maintain consistency at the college” and help “ensure students receive the same strong education they have come to expect at NCCC,” according to a statement released by the board Chairman, Vincent Ginestre following the vote.
The vote comes in the wake of a federal probe into alleged bid rigging involving the construction of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
Board members declined to comment after the vote, instead handing those duties to the public relations consultant they hired after the subpoena was received.
College President James Klyczek will maintain his post during the pending federal and internal investigation. Representatives of the college said after the meeting they’ve taken steps to ensure Klyczek will have no influence over the investigations.
It’s not the first special meeting the board has called after being served late last month with a federal subpoena over the project, which was completed in 2012.
Federal authorities are investigating decisions made — and contracts awarded — to build the $26 million culinary institute.
The facility is both a restaurant open to the public and a hands-on training ground for would-be chefs.
In a series of emails from 2010-2011 obtained by News 4, college President James Klyczek urges members of his administrative staff to push for law firms and other contractors he wanted involved in the selection process.
Klyszek wrote:”Did this go to Hodgson Russ and to Harris Beach? I told these two firms we were not going out til (sic) after today’s board meeting. So we have a problem now.”
After another exchange on the matter, the college’s Vice President of Finance William Shickling told his boss that restarting the process to select the preferred law firm isn’t a good idea.
Shickling responded: “If we re-issue the RFP and subsequently award the business to a firm that didn’t respond to the first RFP … they will obviously be suspicious and may decide to come after us…” Then, he added later, “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.”
The emails also show Klyczek told Shickling to extend the period for requests for proposals to allow time for the companies he desired to apply.
In emails in the fall of 2010, Klyczek tells his administrative staff to help push through discussion for a construction manager to run the project.
“Ok we need to clarify for Monday presentation then – that we are planning for CM (Construction Manager) at risk with guaranteed maximum price. See Kevin tonight and ask the best way to state that for Monday’s meeting,” Klyczek wrote.
Klyczek is believed to be referring to Kevin Schuler, a former member of the board of trustees.
Schuler is one of three former officers of LPCiminelli facing indictment over a bid rigging scheme involving the Buffalo Billion project.
Added Klyczek, continuing to push for a construction manager: “Let’s check with Kevin on how to say this and be clear but not overemphasize. Talk with him privately – not in front of ANY trustee certainly.”
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster responded to the recent news about NCCC and the ongoing investigation. The Niagara Falls City Council decided in 2008 to contribute $1.5 million to the project, so long as the institute was built in Niagara Falls.
In 2012, the city council awarded an additional $1 million to the project.
“I saw the emails, and I think the emails speak for themselves,” Dyster said. “And I can’t speak for the board of the community college., but the one thing I can say as the mayor of Niagara Falls and as a supporter of the Culinary Institute locating in Niagara Falls, from the moment that became a possibility, this has been very, very positive for the city. I think it’s been very positive for community college, and I think it’s been very positive for the students the community college serves.”
Although they provided some of the cost — mostly derived from casino revenues, Dyster said — the city council never participated in the contractor selection process.
“When you’re spending the public dollar, we’re trying simultaneously to get the best possible value, so that’s price, but also quality of work, for the taxpayer,” Dyster said. “We’re also trying to make sure we get the projects done in a timely fashion, and adhering scrupulously to the rules.”
Dyster said he still support the culinary institute, despite the accusations. He said it’s a tourist attraction that benefits the city’s downtown. But the news makes him wonder whether the project could have been completed for a better price.
“Before this current scandal broke, there was no one out there that was complaining that we spent too much money on it,” he said. “And maybe we’ll find out, under other circumstances, this could have been delivered to the public a little bit cheaper. But I think that, by and large, this has been a very positive project.”
In addition to the vote on Klyczek’s future employment with the college, the board also approved a motion to hire the lawfirm Hancock Estabrook to conduct the internal investigation.
“Ultimately, it is the board’s goal to confirm what happened, how it happened, and address all findings quickly and decisively,” the board’s statement read.