RCC Foundation Board Member Confronts RCC Board of Trustees About Possible Conflict of Interest, Sparking Investigation of RCC leases

BY BRIAN EDSALL

On June 29, Dennis Dale approached the podium at Rockland Community College’s Board of Trustees meeting. He wanted answers, but left only with more questions.

Dale, 74, has served on the RCC Foundation Board for approximately 13 years. Dale heard rumors that the college faced significant financial shortfalls and wanted to know why. He approached Ben Naylor, chief of staff, who disputed these claims, stating that the college’s debt was only $40,000.

Dale investigated further, specifically looking into the leases held by RCC. According to Dale he asked college administration for a copy of the  Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education lease and after multiple unresponsive requests, finally decided to take the subject to the Board of Trustees.

 “I think you as trustees owe it to yourselves to find out what’s going on here at the college,” said Dale.

Dale questioned the board of trustees about RCC’s leases. Tensions began to rise, and Dale was escorted out of the room by Officer Scott Bookstein. The official video bleeps out something Dale says as he leaves the room. However, Brookstein’s body cam footage revealed that there were no vulgarities spoken by Dale. The words that were bleeped out were “bye Joe.”

On July 14, Dale was issued a letter from William Murphy, director of Public Safety, considering Dale as Persona non Grata, restricting him from “entering and remaining upon any property owned or controlled by the institution.” Failure to comply with this letter would potentially lead to arrest.

On July 19—20 days after the June 29 meeting—an incident report was written by Officer Avigail Serwatien, who declared herself as the observing officer, though she was not present at the meeting, nor was she working the night of the incident.

Dale emailed President Michael Baston, asking for a 10-minute meeting to explain his side of the story. Dale received a second letter from William Murphy stating that Dale violated the Persona non Grata by contacting people on campus. Murphy stated that Dale would face being arrested if he contacted anyone again.

Tensions notably rose after Dale asked board member Joseph Rand, managing partner of Rand Reality, whether he had looked at any of the leases. Rand said no.

Joseph Rand was appointed to the Board of Trustees by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2014. On July 19, 2016, Rand signed a No Conflicting Interest or Activity Affidavit which stated, “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) from the activity (activities) in which I now give (or am about to give) my services, to the County of Rockland or any affiliated associated board, commission or agency thereof.”

Dale believes that Rand violated this affidavit by profiting off of RCC leases involving Rand Reality.

On November 10, 2015, RCC entered a 10-year lease with BNM Properties, Inc for 27,340 square feet located at 37 Ramland Road, Orangeburg, New York for the Automotive Center for RCC.

BNM Properties, Inc. is owned by John Piccininni, member of the RCC Foundation, who signed the lease. Additionally, Rand Reality brokered the real estate deal—and Joseph Rand is photographed and discussed in an article about the lease agreement with Paul Adler—listing agent, partner of Joseph Rand and Managing Partner of Rand Reality.

In contrast to the lease, records from the Town of Orangetown Building Department show that RCC is actually receiving 23,198 square feet. This is a difference of 4,142 square feet, or $91,125 per year in value.

Less than a year after this lease was signed, the cost of square footage in the same building is now being offered for $15 per square foot, equating to $410,000 per year. RCC is currently paying $601,480 for the lease, an overvaluation of $191,380 per year, or $1,913,800 over the life of the 10-year lease.

Meeting minutes from an October 21, 2015 Trustee Workshop showed that former RCC President Dr. Cliff Wood stated, “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.”

Joseph Rand was present at this meeting according to the meeting minutes. Additionally, according to February 3, 2016 meeting minutes, Dr. Wood reported that Rand Reality agreed to sponsor a grand opening ceremony for the Automotive Technology Center.

Furthermore, according to RCC trustee board minutes/workshop minutes, the board of trustees never voted on signing this lease, despite having the fiduciary responsibility of the college.

On August 31, Andrew Dale, son of Dennis Dale, attended the board of trustees meeting, informing all of the trustees, as well as Dr. Baston, of the alleged conflict of  interest which occurred in the handling of the lease of 37 Ramland Road, as well as the attempt to silence his father.

At the September 28 Board of Trustees meeting, Martin Wortendyke stated that RCC felt as though an investigation was warranted. President Baston enlisted a group SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) to run the investigation.

SCORE is a volunteer group of retired executives that assist young entrepreneurs start new businesses. Moreover, SCORE has an office on the RCC campus in the same building as the president and the trustees. They also have another location in a property leased by RCC in Haverstraw, New York.

SCORE may not be the ideal authority to handle the case, Dale said. “SCORE does not have any experience doing investigations…They are not meant to do any forensic accounting or checking leases, among other things.”

RCC was contacted about these allegations, but Chief Communications Officer Tzipora Reitman stated that RCC did not have any comments at this time as the issues are currently under review.