A new state watchdog agency recommended Monday that Gov. David Paterson suspend or dismiss board members of the New York State Theatre Institute accused of hiring relatives and leasing a New York City apartment at a cost of nearly $700,000.
The two-month-old Authorities Budget Office, in its first major action, said it has reviewed information from the state inspector general's office that is investigating the institute.
Inspector General Joseph Fisch found that Producing Director Patricia Snyder, with full control over hiring and little board oversight, selected herself and close relatives for more than 300 jobs with more than 90 percent of Theatre Institute productions.
Snyder also oversaw an additional $475,000 in questionable expenses, including more than $150,000 on rent for a Manhattan studio apartment, Fisch said.
"The hiring of family members by the producing director was common practice that was condoned by the board,'' the letter stated, citing Fisch's report. "Employment of board members' children is mentioned during board meetings as though it were common and accepted practice.''
The letter cites state laws that prohibit state employees from hiring relatives. The Authorities Budget Office states the board failed to use good judgment in overseeing the lease of a New York City apartment and other financial actions of the producing director, "which an ordinarily prudent person in like position would use.''
The Authorities Budget Office concluded the board "demonstrated a persistent pattern of neglect.'' David Morris, a spokesman for the institute, released a statement saying the main goal of the board remains providing quality theater arts education for children throughout New York state
"We hope the administration will engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue toward achieving that end,'' said Morris. Morris said the institute's board has taken several steps in response to the IG's report, including putting Synder on unpaid leave, suspending any future engagement with Snyder family members, terminating the NYC lease, and hiring a new producing director.
The institute's hired attorney, E. Stewart Jones Jr., had said the inspector general's report ignored Snyder's enormous contributions to the institute, the state and the arts community over three decades.
He said that she, her husband, two sons and their wives were employed because of their talents, and noted that New York's law prohibiting nepotism wasn't enacted until 2007, after much of the hiring.
The institute was established in 1974 to provide theater and education to New York youths. It puts on several productions annually and had a $3.6 million budget last year.
This was the first major action by the Authorities Budget Office, created in March to oversee hundreds of state authorities separate from state government with specific tasks, such as mass transit.
"I don't know what action the governor would take,'' said David Kidera, director of the office, but said the governor's office is expected to contact the institute. "I assume they would try to work with them.'' He said the office has no recourse if the governor, or anyone who appoints members to an authority or similar board, decides not to act.
"This is the first time in the history of the state that we had the ability to stop wrongdoing at an authority,'' said Assemblyman
Richard Brodsky, the Westchester Democrat who sponsored legislation to provide more oversight of authorities. "Now the governor has the ability to take immediate action that will lead to the dismissal of the board.''
Brodsky is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, along with several other candidates, including former Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo, Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Sean Coffey, a former federal prosecutor.