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NYSTI board to discuss critical report

NYSTI board to discuss critical report

The board of the New York State Theatre Institute is scheduled to meet today to discuss a report by

The board of the New York State Theatre Institute is scheduled to meet today to discuss a report by the state Inspector General that accuses longtime Producing Director Patricia Snyder of nepotism and questionable spending.

Gov. David Paterson on Monday called on the institute’s board to remove Snyder, calling it the “first step to restoring the public trust.”

David Morris, chairman of the institute’s board, said board members “take our obligations seriously and while we appreciate the governor’s concerns, we believe in according Dr. Snyder a measure of due process as we fully evaluate the Inspector General’s findings.”

He said the board will discuss Inspector General Joseph Fisch’s report, issued last week, during its meeting. Fisch said Snyder steered nearly $700,000 in contract jobs to family members, a violation of New York’s Public Officers Law ban on nepotism, and spent more than $150,000 in state funds on an apartment near Carnegie Hall and more than $277,000 for restaurant meals, chauffeured car rides and overseas trips.

Fisch said the institute’s board of directors exercised scant oversight of Snyder’s spending and hiring actions.

Morris said the board reacted to Fisch’s report immediately by suspending contracts with members of the Snyder family.

Fisch said Snyder treated the institute as a family fiefdom, rather than as a state agency. The report details how Snyder hired her husband, William Fortune Snyder; two sons, George Fortune Snyder and William Severin Snyder; and two daughters-in-law, Mary Jane Hansen and Shannon Johnson Snyder, for jobs as actor, producer, director, author, narrator, musician, sound technician, composer, arranger, programmer, illustrator, instructor and office assistant.

Attorney E. Stewart Jones, representing Snyder, said Snyder hired family members based on their artistic merits and not because of any family relationships.

In his letter to the institute’s board, Paterson said the board should “take decisive action to protect NYSTI and its taxpayer-funded assets by immediately removing the producing director. Under NYSTI’s enabling statute, the producing director serves at the pleasure of the board.”

Meanwhile, 24 staff at the institute forwarded their own signed letter to the board on Snyder’s behalf.

In the letter, staff called the Inspector General’s report “seriously flawed and abhorrently distorted.”

Staff said Snyder is “honest, fair and passionate about her work for young people,” and that the family members she hired are fully qualified and that their contributions have been of “the highest order, always exceeding expectation and frequently made on a voluntary basis.”

Snyder is the only producing director in the institute’s 36-year history.

The state Legislature established the institute in 1974 to provide theater and education for New York youth and provides it with a budget of approximately $3.1 million annually.

The institute also collects $575,000 in box office receipts, merchandising and through other revenue sources.

Paterson’s proposed executive budget cuts the institute’s $3.1 million budget in half and eliminates it in the second year.

The institute presents several stage productions annually and had a 2009-10 budget of $3.6 million.

The institute employs 33 people and hires actors, creative staff and technical workers on a per-production basis.

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