Taxpayer’s alert: Michael Abbot, auditor for the State University of New York, states that when he got a complaint that Upstate Medical Center’s $50 million Institute for Human Performance had been sitting two-thirds empty since its construction in 2000, he asked Upstate about it. Upstate’s attorney wrote him a letter justifying it and Abbot dropped the matter without an on-site investigation. In short, Upstate was allowed to investigate itself and find itself without flaw. A $72 million addition to the largely empty Institute has been under construction for two years.
So I went home, called my colleagues, got two groups of three people set up, and called Linda McKeown to tell her that we’d be available to visit Call-a-Bus early the next week. She said no, that wouldn’t work; she would call me back in about a month.
So I called Frank’s office and left a message with his secretary relating my conversation with Linda and asking how soon he had in mind that we should visit. Within the hour I got a call from Linda approving our visit for the following week.
HOO-RAH! Winning sure feels good.
And then the shit totally hit the fan. While the Public Transportation Advisory Council and the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Civil Rights were trying—unsuccessfully—to get Centro’s Call-a-Bus Manager Linda McKeown to rehabilitate her sub-standard service, the Post-Standard reported—
Centro cited for serving special needs riders
Authority earns one of five awards given by federal council on access, mobility.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
By Elizabeth Doran
“Centro is one of five national winners of the 2005 United We Ride Leadership Award, recognizing its programs for riders with special needs.
“The Central New York Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Centro, was chosen because of its success in coordinating specialized community transportation services, said Jennifer L. Dorn, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.
“Frank Kobliski, authority executive director, said he’s proud of the Call-A-Bus and Rides for Work programs, which supplement the standard fixed-route bus system.”
I went ballistic and called Jennifer Dorn, David Knight, and a bunch of other people. How the hell could they give an award to Call-a-Bus when it was under investigation?
The answers that came back included, but were not limited to, the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and CAB, technically, was not under investigation. The fact that attorney David Knight and I were going chapter and verse over all the things CAB was doing wrong didn’t mean they were under investigation. You’re not under investigation until you’re on the freakin’ computer! And the case against CAB wasn’t on the computer because I hadn’t filed a written complaint. And the bus companies that got the awards had been vetted months earlier. And Betty Petrie, special assistant to Frank Kobliski, was busy applying for every award she could find.
Must be nice to have the government pay for a public relations specialist to apply for government awards for your business. I mean, who needs citizens? Why not just have the government play with itself?
So I’m sitting in Frank Kobliski’s office, which is on the top floor of a two-story building. The corner office is about four acres wide, glassed in on two sides, and—Frank gleefully tells me—overlooks the largest garage in the county or country or whatever; they’ve got x-amount of acres under roof.
Frank Kobliski was a student at Syracuse University and was the university’s student bus service. He drove the bus, washed it at night and banked the receipts. He then had a 22-year-old son and cringes at the memory of himself having all the responsibility of driving a bus at that age. After Frank graduated, he went downtown and started working for the old Syracuse Transit Company, which eventually morphed into Centro. He worked his way up until he became one of the three men running Centro. There was a big stink when the world (read: the NYS Inspector General’s Office) found out that Centro’s director, Warren Frank, was working from home. His home was in California. And this was okay with the CNY Regional Transportation Authority board, whose members were appointed by the governor.
After Warren Frank’s removal, instead of naming a new director, the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority board put three guys in as equally in charge. It was a disaster; it took months just to get the three men to agree on a Christmas card design so they could spend $500 for it. When they finally scrapped the three-guys-management-plan, Frank Kobliski came out on top as the new executive director.
In 2005, Kobliski was earning about $150,000 a year to oversee the state public transportation authority. Centro had a budget of about $42 million and about six hundred employees. Frank prided himself on always having his office door open to his employees. If the door was open and they could see him at his desk, then they were welcome to come in. During the time that I worked with Frank he had his office remodeled, including installing a partition that blocked his desk from view. There’s more than one way to technically keep your word while breaking the spirit of the commitment.
In 2005, my income was about $10,000 and I managed one home health aide who worked about ten hours a week. Another difference between Frank and me was that—according to his special assistant, Betty Petrie—he dyed his hair. I didn’t dye mine, figuring—as my family always has—that gray hair is a sign of wisdom. Sometimes Frank does send an honest message.
Meanwhile, what was happening with Medicaid transportation? When last we visited it, my vendor had stopped carrying me because I had met with county legislator Kathy Rapp.