College Vice President gives false information to student government

Jayne Bittner and Jayne Bittner

Student senators are reconsidering a skateboard-safety campaign after learning they were provided inaccurate information by a college vice president.

Apparently trying to raise awareness about the dangers of skateboarding on campus, Joe Sullivan, vice president of Business Services, gave three conflicting reports on three occasions about legal claims involving skateboarder-to-pedestrian injuries at City College.

Based on Sullivan’s information, the Associated Student Senate, at its regular meeting Nov. 20, discussed posting informational signs about the dangers of skateboarding on campus.

The senate was starting to “get the ball rolling” on its campaign, said Atty Garfinkel, vice president of senate affairs. But learning that the information was inaccurate changes things.

“It would be fabulous if the Student Senate was notified of administrative errors by the person who made the error,” she said.

In Sullivan’s presentation to the senate Oct. 23, he said there are “four claims against the district” involving skateboarding every year. These claims are formal complaints, usually filed after one is wronged or injured on the grounds of a public institution.

“That’s $100,000 minimum we put out because people are hit by skateboarders on campus,” he had said.

However, Sullivan told The Channels in a Nov. 17 interview that only “one to two claims essentially every year” are filed against the college – half the number of claims he represented to the senate.

He also said the claims typically total less than the “$100,000 minimum” per year he had previously stated.

“One year, there was up to $100,000 in claims,” Sullivan told The Channels. “That’s not the norm, but there are claims every year.”

When a claim is settled, the institution has two options: The college can deny the claim or it can decide to pay a certain amount to avoid a future lawsuit.

“The claims are almost always settled because they’re legitimate,” Sullivan said, referring to the skateboarding claims.

But after The Channels asked to review the claims, Sullivan met once again with a reporter, this time on Nov. 20, and said he “needed to retract his comments.” In making his earlier comments, he said he was acting “off of rumor.”

“It turns out there are no skateboarding claims in recent years,” he said.

Sullivan said he was given the information about the claims by another source. He said he should have researched the information himself beforehand.

He then refused to provide the name of the source to avoid a “he said this, she said this” situation, he said.

City College’s Risk Manager, Steve Lewis, said all the college’s claims come through his office. He confirmed that no skateboard claims exist.

“There have been accidents and injuries,” he said. “I don’t know of any liability claims. I’d hate to have that perception out there that there are these huge claims.”

Lewis said the observed dangers of skateboarding on campus “probably drove the perception” of existing claims, but had no idea where Sullivan’s specific number of claims and dollar amounts originated.

By Nov. 30, Sullivan had not contacted any senate members to notify them of the misinformation provided, according to Garfinkel, senate adviser Dr. Ben Partee, senate secretary Amy Collins and Senator Dano Pagenkopf.

Senate members have run into Sullivan on campus, but “the subject matter has not come up,” Garfinkel said.

Sullivan said he had “no further comment” when The Channels requested a follow-up interview.

The Channels filed a formal request to see all of the college’s claims in the past five to 10 years.