Execs Refuse to Release Spending Details
Every undergraduate student at UB paid $69.75 this semester, for student activities. They paid $69.75 last semester, too
That added up to about $2.1 million, which seems like a lot of money at first. But as SA clubs have started to ask why their activities can’t be funded, there have been more questions than answers about where the money went.
Some activities that money has paid for were famously enjoyable, such as the Fall Fest lineup of Lil’ Kim, Nas and Godsmack.
But activity fee dollars also went to pay for a lot of other things that most undergraduates knew nothing about. Such as, nearly $39,000 in expense-paid trips that SA President George Pape and other SA officers took to resorts in San Diego, Orlando and Cedar Point, Ohio.
Such as $3,800 for sweatshirts and t-shirts that SA officers gave each other as gifts. Or the $1,000 spent on leather portfolios embossed with the SA logo.
But the student fees that SA officers spent on themselves weren’t just special occasions. They reached into student fees to buy stuff most students reach into their own pockets for—like lunch. From the limited accounting Generation has been able to review, about $1,000 in student fees went to feed hungry SA officials, not including events where SA handed out free pizza to students.
The SA office must have become awfully run down in recent years, because SA officials needed to spend about $7,832 in student fees to fix it up. Painting, furniture, and new fixtures weren’t enough to brighten the place up, though. SA officials spent $114 on flowers for themselves and others.
SA Vice President Jocelyn Tejeda makes $10,000 a year in stipends, like Pape and Treasurer Anthony Burgio. But when it was time for her birthday, SA officials dipped into student fees again, and bought her a $17.99 birthday cake from Wegman’s.
There may be more. It’s not clear, because Generation’s attempts to get detailed financial records and receipts have been blocked by SA officials.
The state’s top open government official has said that SA must release documents recording the spending of student fees, which are public information. SUNY Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Edward Engelbride has agreed, and issued a statement saying so.
In a Jan. 23 meeting with Generation editors, Burgio became angry when Generation pressed its Freedom of Information request. “I can’t believe you would do this,” Burgio said. “This is fucking retarded.”
Burgio said that he would refer the matter to the Student Association’s outside counsel, Phillips Lytle, LLP. He criticized the magazine’s public information request, saying it would cost the Student Association thousands of dollars to fight.
Pape said the Student Association was unable to handle a public information request without paying for the services of outside counsel.
“I wouldn’t put a price tag on sound legal advice,” Pape said. Burgio said that SA has already paid the firm about $12,000 to date for services rendered for various matters
In February, after Generation obtained legal assistance and statements from Engelbride and Bob Freeman, executive director of the NY Deptartment of State’s Committee on Open Government, SA told Generation it would have access to the requested documents.
SA provided some requested documents, but continued to withhold others. The cell phone bills of Pape, Tejeda, and Burgio were denied. So were the time sheets for the executive officers’ personal assistant, who is paid $7.50 an hour to run errands for them. So were bills and receipts documenting numerous expenditures that had raised questions.
Records Access Officer Pat Kujawa signed a letter on Feb. 20, saying that Generation could have access to the remaining documents at a time convenient to Burgio. But Burgio said he was too busy.
On March 2, Burgio said he would give Generation access to the documents on March 9. That is one day before the cutoff date for students to file papers to run for SA office.
“This time of year is our busiest time for our finance department,” Burgio said. He said he wouldn’t release the documents unless he and his staff were present to review them, though state law says if the documents are available they are to be released immediately.
“It could be they are trying to delay as long as they can,” Dr. Mark Hurwitz, an assistant professor in the Political Science department, said about the failure to release the documents. “Maybe until after the SA elections, or until the end of the term.”
Burgio confirmed he will be campaigning for the job of Student Association president this spring.