Monday, June 05, 2006

Transparency, transparency, transparency

One of the points made in the Brennan Center's evaluation of New York's legislative process is that the workings of the state government are painfully opaque. In today's New York Times , Danny Hakim provides an example of how that lack of transparency can translate into seemingly questionable uses of taxpayer money.

This particular story is about the New York State Theater Institute, or Nysti, one New York's many quasi-governmental agencies that receive and spend state money with surprisingly little oversight. The Times article notes that the Theater Institute (which no doubt, many New Yorkers had not heard of before today) has received $2.1 million this year, compared to $7.3 million in theater and arts related education to SEVERAL HUNDREDS of cultural organizations last year. Just where has that money gone? This is where the lack of transparency becomes a little troubling:

Discerning how the institute spends taxpayers' money is not simple.

Documents provided by the theater show that its longtime executive director, Patricia Snyder, has given work and perks to many of her family members. While the theater world has a long tradition of family troupes, giving work to relatives raises eyebrows at government entities.

Last year, four of Ms. Snyder's relatives were flown to Sweden to take part in a production written by Ms. Snyder's daughter-in-law. The institute also spends $2,275 a month on a Midtown Manhattan apartment.

To be sure, in a budget as huge as the State of New York's, $2.3 million may seem like a drop in the bucket. And certainly, many New Yorkers are happy to have the State support arts education.

But, family trips to Sweden? And, given the fact that the Institute is spending State money, why isn't it "simple" to figure out how that money is being used? We should be under no illusions that the alleged wasteful spending going on at Nysti represents some isolated event. Without sunlight, fraud and waste will fester.

This appears to be a small, but excellent, example of the need for greater transparency in New York government. NOW.

Categories: General, Legislative Rules

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