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SUNY Canton chairman complains about joint CFO

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CANTON — SUNY Canton College Council Chairman Ronald M. O’Neill feels like the odd man out.

Mr. O’Neill recently complained that the administration at his school was realigned without adequate notification to the council or to Carli C. Schiffner, college president.

“We have concern those changes happened out of the blue,” he said. “We weren’t being told what to expect.”

Now he claims he is being denied access to the school’s chief financial officer, Natalie L. Higley. Mr. O’Neill was slated to meet with Ms. Higley on Monday, but canceled the meeting after she requested to have Ms. Schiffner and SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller present.

“I regret that I was not informed until after my arrival that SUNY Central legal had advised that any meeting with you would have to include both our Interim President Schiffner, as well as SUNY Potsdam President Schwaller,” Mr. O’Neill wrote. “It was my understanding I would meet separately with you and then meet with Interim President Schiffner immediately after. Under the new circumstances I declined to continue.”

SUNY Central responded to Mr. O’Neill’s complaint Monday evening.

“SUNY legal was contacted by the CFO who had questions about her rights,” SUNY Central spokesman David D. Doyle wrote. “She was informed that she was entitled to have her supervisors present at the meeting. We understand that after refusing to meet jointly with the CFO and two campus presidents, the college council chair claimed he was going to ‘contact the newspapers.’ We question this entire episode as in the end it seems more of a publicity stunt than a serious attempt at advancing an important dialogue for these two campuses.”

Mr. O’Neill dismissed SUNY Central.

“This statement would be laughable if it weren’t trying to divert attention from what is happening to SUNY Canton,” he said. “It is not the first, nor I assume the last attempt to try to discredit and dissuade me from pursuing the truth. It will not work.”

The College Council has questioned whether Ms. Higley, hired this summer as a shared CFO between SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam, was usurping Ms. Schiffner’s authority and acting unilaterally.

“I am getting the feeling that there is a direct link from the CFO to SUNY Albany,” Mr. O’Neill said. “I would like to know who she is supposed to report to.”

Ms. Higley has taken the lead in combining many of the back-office administrative functions of the campuses.

“To me, I see that she is directing these changes rather than the presidents,” SUNY Canton College Council member Chloe A. O’Neill said.

According to Ms. Higley’s memorandum of understanding with the schools, both Mr. Schwaller and Ms. Schiffner act as her supervisors.

Canton’s College Council also was upset that Ms. Higley did not attend its past two meetings. Ms. Higley also was unable to attend the recent SUNY Potsdam College Council meeting. She was not available for comment.

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