Board of Trustees vice chair resigns

As a result of an executive order signed by former Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, Susanne Svizeny, Board of Trustees vice chair, has been forced to step down while the College appeals the decision of the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards.

The commission determined that Svizeny’s employment with Wachovia Bank, National Association (N.A.) violates Codey’s order designed to eliminate conflicts of interest in state colleges and universities.

On Nov. 16 2005, Codey signed Executive Order 65, forbidding state college and university presidents and board members from receiving income from businesses that do business with the institution they serve.

According to the order, the president or a member of the board of a state university, college or county college may not “do business, directly or indirectly, with the institution that they govern or by which they are employed.”

The prohibition also applies to a board member or college president who is employed by a company that does business with the college he or she governs. The immediate family members of college presidents and board members are covered by the order as well.

An individual who has a business relationship prohibited by the order had 30 days to either sever the business relationship or resign from public office. If the board member does not, he may be removed from his position. Following a flood of requests for clarification, Codey extended the deadline to Jan. 1.

College leaders can receive exemptions from the state if they show the otherwise-prohibited business contract came about as a result of competitive bidding, or if the contract was one that is exempt from public bidding by state law.

“One of the focal points of my year in office has been restoring the public’s trust in government,” Codey said in a press release from his office. “Today we are moving beyond the Executive Branch and taking yet another step to protect the public’s interest. By eliminating conflicts of interest within our colleges and universities, we can protect the taxpayers’ dollars and ensure that New Jersey’s educational institutions remain among the very best in the world.”

The executive order expands a 2002 College policy which required board members to disclose any conflicts that might be perceived to exist, and to recluse themselves from College business involving that conflict.

Svizeny is southern New Jersey’s regional president for Wachovia Bank, N.A. and the College banks with Wachovia. The Signal had asked College officials after the order was announced whether Svizeny would be affected, but was told that the composition of the board would not change.

“Our preliminary understanding is none of our board members will be impacted by the executive order,” Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, said in an e-mail dated Nov. 30. “Conducting a comprehensive review, as we are in the process of doing, will allow us to examine all business relationships and assure that we are meeting the standards set forth by the governor.”

When pressed for information about Svizeny specifically, Golden said he could not comment on specific cases.

It was only after a Signal reporter asked Svizeny directly about the order that the College retreated from its position that it would not require any exemptions for its board members.

“When the executive order was first issued, we did not believe our trustees would be impacted,” Golden said of the reversal. “After further review, we submitted exemption requests for a few of our trustees.”

The College also submitted waiver requests for Pat Rado, whose husband works for PSE&G, Barbara Pelson, whose husband serves on the board of a company that does what Golden described as “minor” business with the College, and Daria Silvestro, alternate student trustee, who has a parent that works with the Educational Testing Service.

Rado’s waiver was granted, as PSE&G’s utility business is considered a “sole provider” – the College can’t get power from anyone else and so there is no competitive bidding on the contract. Pelson and Silvestro’s exemptions are still pending.

Svizeny has stopped her work with the College while the school appeals the state’s decision.

“Losing Susanne would be a blow, if that becomes permanent, as she is a valued member of our board and a strong supporter of (the College),” Golden said. “We still, however, support Governor Codey’s intent in issuing the executive order.”