Rockland Community College Automotive Technology Center Lease has Concerned Taxpayer Asking Questions—RCC Trustee Belittles & Bullies Him
Answers and Transparency Would Help, Subsequent Action Taken By RCC Needs to Be Addressed
This is the first in a series of articles on this topic.
Concerned taxpayers, one of whom has spent countless hours raising money for The Rockland Community College Foundation have come forward and are asking some interesting questions about the lease signed in 2015 for the RCC Automotive Technology Center in Orangetown.
On November 10, 2015 Dr. Woods, then President of Rockland Community College signed a lease for the `new Automotive Technology Center located at 37 Ramland Road in Orangetown.
The lease states that the college is leasing 27,340 square feet “as is” and paying $50,123/month which amounts to $601,476 annually or $22/square foot. The lease is a “triple net’ lease meaning that RCC is responsible for all other costs associated with the lease. The lease then discusses that the landlord “shall perform that work on exhibit “A” attached to this rider.” Exhibit “A” contains a building plan but the associated costs are not included.
Plans filed with The Town of Orangetown show that the college is actually getting 23,198 square feet of usable space so it appears as if they are getting 4,142 square feet less than they are paying for. Being that it is a self-contained space in a larger shared building, a portion of this square footage can be accounted for however the concerned taxpayers want to know and feel the public should know the story behind the rest of this square footage and the associated cost.
The same property is currently being offered at $15.25/square foot less than two years later however it’s not known if that is for office or warehouse space. Curiously enough, when we searched public records we found that the listing agent has a broker’s lien on the Ramland Road property dated April 8, 2016 for $27,603.55.
Property Leasing Agent Stiffed Out of Commission? Rand Realty Now Reps the Property
The property’s leasing representative was not paid their commission by the property owner when RCC took possession of the property as required under that agreement and have placed a $27,603.55 lien on the property. As part of this filing the original Exclusive Right Commission Agreement is attached showing that in 2009 office space was being offered at $11.00/square foot while warehouse space was being offered at $6.95/square foot. Clearly real estate prices have risen from the depressed levels of 2009 however they haven’t increased by double. Similar warehouse space in the same area is currently being offered at approximately $8.00/square foot.
9/27/2017 Correction: The property’s leasing agent did not receive their commission when LTS Chemical, Inc. took possession of their space at 37 Ramland Road in January, 2016. We regret this error and apologize for any confusion.
Not only was the original leasing agent not paid, Rand Commercial Services is now the leasing agent for the property located at 37 Ramland Road.
RCC is paying the rent while apparently providing office space to Snap-on Tools which is a publicly traded company listed on the NYSE.
According to meeting minutes, on 7/23/2015 Terence Maney from Snap-On Tools attended both the RCC Board workshop and the Board meeting. Mr. Maney discussed a potential partnership that included the Automotive Technology Center becoming the Northeast Regional Certification Center for Snap-On Tools. The concerned taxpayers want to know why a for-profit entity referred to as a ‘partner’ of RCC with a market cap of $8.58 billion and $3.4 billion is sales for fiscal year 2016 is allegedly getting free office space while also leasing more than $100,000 in tools annually to the college. Is there a benefit to the college? If so, they feel that the deal should be transparent to the public.
Meeting minutes also state that the lease of the property at 37 Ramland Drive in Orangetown was discussed at various RCC board meetings however there does not seem to be a resolution or a vote recorded anywhere. Meanwhile the trustees on the Rockland Community College board have a fiduciary responsibility which include care, loyalty, and obedience.
According to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges:
“A fiduciary is someone who has special responsibilities in connection with the administration, investment, monitoring, and distribution of property—meaning, the charitable or public assets of the institution, as well as intangible assets such as its reputation and role in the community.”
While there are a number of questions surrounding the price per square foot and the apparent free office space to Snap-On Tools there are other issues that raised the concerned taxpayer’s eyebrows further.
According to RCC Board of Trustees Workshop Minutes from October 21, 2015:
“RCC is continuing to work with Rand Commercial Services to negotiate with the owners of the Greenbush Road facility. If this facility does not work out, there is an additional possible facility.”
Apparently, the Greenbush Road facility did not work out because just 20 days later, on November 10, 2017 Dr. Wood signed the lease for 37 Ramland Rd.
The concerned taxpayers have asked around, sent emails, looked up information, set multiple FOIL requests and even attended a Board of Trustees meeting at RCC in an attempt to get answers to their questions leading one in particular to be shut down and shut out by the college.
Essentially both concerned taxpayers would like answers to the following questions:
- Rand Commercial Services as noted above ‘work(ed) with’ Rockland Community College on the real estate transaction. Joseph Rand, Managing Partner and General Counsel of Rand Commercial is also a Trustee on the Board of Rockland Community College. Does this represent a conflict of interest?
- The property located at 37 Ramland Road in Orangeburg is owned by BNM Properties, LLC. The Managing Member and the person who signed the lease on behalf of BNM Properties, LLC is John Piccininni who is also on the board of the RCC Foundation. Does the fact that RCC is leasing property from a member of the RCC Foundation constitute a conflict of interest and/or the appearance of impropriety?
- Does the fact that RCC worked with the firm where one of its trustees is a managing partner to lease property essentially owned by a Trustee of the RCC Foundation represent a conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety?
- What happened to the Greenbush Road property, what was the cost per square foot and how was the 37 Ramland Road deal done and signed in twenty days?
- Joseph Rand is required to sign an annual Rockland County Board of Ethics affidavit. The affidavit titled ‘No Conflicting Interest or Activity Affidavit” in part states:
DISCLOSURE, ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND AFFIRMATION OF NO CONFLICTING INTEREST OR ACTIVITY, WHICH WOULD CONSTITUTE A PERSONAL GAIN OR A CONFLICT OF INTEREST
With full knowledge and awareness I affirm that I do not have, I have not engaged in, and I will not engage in any activity that would provide a personal or pecuniary gain to myself, my spouse, or my dependent(s) that would provide a personal or pecuniary gain to myself, my spouse, or my dependents(s) from the activity (activities) in which I now give (or am about to give) my services, to the County of Rockland or any affiliated or associated board, commission or agency thereof.
- The concerned taxpayers want to know why Mr. Rand signed this affidavit when his firm appears to have received compensation for working with RCC and BNM Properties, LLC on the Automotive Center Lease. The concerned taxpayers believe that this represents a conflict of interest. We called Rand Commercial Services and left a message for Joseph Rand in order to provide him with the opportunity to respond to these questions. Unfortunately, we have not yet received a response however we are committed to providing equal access to Mr. Rand.
- What costs are included in the monthly lease payment for the Automotive Technology Center? Is there a detailed breakdown available that will explain and justify these costs?
- SUNY will reimburse up to 50% of the cost of leases however it is unclear whether leasehold improvements are included. RCC board of trustee workshop minutes dated July 23, 2015 state that “(RCC officials) …identify all renovations needed. The goal is to put all costs into the lease so that RCC can get 50% of the cost paid by SUNY.” We contacted officials in a number of different departments at SUNY with one person telling us that leasehold improvements were not expenses that qualified for reimbursement, another told us that she thought they might be and two more weren’t sure.
- During the RCC Board of Trustee’s meeting on June 29, 2017, one of the concerned taxpayers tried to ask some of these questions and essentially was shut down, belittled and bullied. Why did RCC essentially handle a person asking questions by shutting them down?
Interestingly enough, while researching this article we spoke with a reporter in the Albany area who emphatically stated that there are a number of egregious examples of what he feels are conflicts of interest with board members at other SUNY schools that go unreported.
While there may be some reasonable answers to some of these questions this is clearly not be the end of this story.
Tomorrow: Meet the concerned taxpayers… and watch the troubling video.