Auditing the AP article on the New York State Motorcycle Program

Before the sun came up yesterday, I was watching Morning Joe and drinking my cuppa Joe I read an article on the Newsday.com site, “Audit: high spending at cycle training program” distributed by the Associated Press without any originating media source or attribution. I suggest you read the article first before reading the rest of this entry.

I don’t know Joe Aiello and had never spoken to him before I had read the piece. I know several people who do not like him (hatred is a more accurate word to describe one of them) or have their own problems with how MANYS ran the program. And, before the article had been published, I had heard from a trusted source that there was financial mismanagement of the program. If anything, I was predisposed to take the article at face value.

On a cursory read, it appears as solidly reported news. However one very obvious thing raised a red flag:

Although very serious allegations are made about MANYS no one from the organization was contacted for comment—nor is there even a “attempts to reach for comment were not returned”. Nothing. [NOTE: As I was going over Aiello’s response to AP, I discovered that a later version of the article on the Newsday site included at the very end of the article mention that whoever generated the article tried to get hold of someone from the Association. This was not in the article I read before the sun came up.]

That is not standard procedure in newsrooms and generally indicates its generated by vested interests. I myself would love to get comments from MSF on everything I write but they stopped responding to my requests years ago and I got tired of calling and e-mailing with no response. Had I unlimited minutes, I would, however, do exactly that–leave messages, send e-mails, wait interminably just so I could say that I tried.

What readers may not know is that AP also accepts press releases and other articles generated from public relations firms, etc. and prints them verbatim but without identifying them as such. It was not clear where this article orginated (and my efforts to find out through the AP have been unanswered).

I had to talk to Joe Aiello to get his side—after all, the Newsday article presented only what interests such as MSF would want out there. Otoh, my friend had shared the rumors—so maybe there was fire under the smoke.  I was able to speak with him yesterday and asked him some hard questions on the phone yesterday morning. He was unaware that an article allegedly finanical misbehavior had been printed. Being uwaware he was also unprepared and that’s a good time to ask someone questions. I took good notes, which I will share with readers.

I also have a call into Bill Pautler, at the NY DMV, but he has not returned my call as of yet.

Later in the day I received an e-mail that Aiello had sent to the Associated Press—and Newsday.com did publish an article that addressed many things he said in that e-mail. And I suggest you read the followup article, too. In the next entry I am posting Aiello’s entire rebuttal uncut.

But before we let Aiello present his side, I believe it’s important that you know what I knew as I read the article in the first place. It’s background information that may give you a different perspective that may help in evaluating what both sides have gotten into print in the mainstream media:

As I had revealed long ago on the old Journalspace blog, in late 2004, employees at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation saw a document called a “hit list” that listed the states that MSF planned to take over. New York topped the list. At that time, MSF had just taken over the California program and MSF was struggling to get that program up and running (almost as badly as they’re handling NY now). The next time the NY contract was up for bid was the fall of 2008–and MSF, as we know, moved to take over the state. But they didn’t wait until the fall to begin.

In May 2008, a bill was introduced in the NY Senate, S7405 that removed requirements that would prevent an organization such as MSF from taking over the state program. The need for this modification was explained as “…this bill would encourage competition among motorcycle rider training coordination organizations to provide the highest quality training program at the lowest cost to riders.”

There are, however, extremely few “motorcycle rider training coordination organizations” in existence–and now there are less. In fact, the only two I can think of: the first was the one that used to be in California–Crayne & Associates–they lost the bid to MSF–and MANYS which lost the bid to MSF. It is fair to say that the bill was passed that benefited only one such entity—the Motorcycle Safety Foundation was the only corporation that could compete with MANYS. No other organization that met the legislative definition was prepared to bid on the program.

Astute readers will recall that a bill is currently before the New Jersey legislature that would also remove obstacles that would prevent MSF from taking over that program and that such language is already in the bill before the Mississippi legislature that would establish a state program. New Jersey was also on the “hit list”.

Just 2008 was the first year MSF could respond to the RFP, 2008 was the last year such a bill could be passed in time to bid on the program.

At the same time, MANYS had already allowed Lee Park’s Total Control to operate as a state-authorized program and Park’s program was going to expand greatly this year. Parks, it is rumored, is coming out with a novice training program.

MANYS had also planned to start offering a sidecar course this year that would use Evergreen Council’s curriculum instead of MSF’s new sidecar course.

Aiello was also going to allow independent contractors who wished to use TEAM Oregon’s curriculum to do so under the state program.

Otoh, he had no problem letting Rider’s Edge in either—as long as they met the requirements for ranges, instructors and so forth.

As he said, if the program was good, whatever would get students in to take a course was good for New York.

MSF’s takeover then was just in time to prevent any other curriculum than its own from being taught as part of a state program.

After I had read the Newsday article I went back to the source who had heard the rumor of financial misdealing to find out how he had heard. The rumor was being spread by someone who stood to benefit from MSF taking over the program from MANYS. And it also turned out that he heard the rumor before MSF was awarded the contract—and weeks before the audit was done. That, then, also influenced how I looked upon this conveniently timed article.

Such tactics–making allegations of misdeeds fits MSF’s modus operandi from its takeovers of other states. It’s also how it deals with critics in general. Not only that, Tim Buche had insinuated to me, Dave Searle and Fred Rau similar financial misbehavior about Crayne and Associates, Doug Fitts and Hoot Gibson shortly after MSF had taken over the California state program—none of which turned out to be true. In the same interview, Buche also insinuated similar thing about TEAM Oregon, too—and that didn’t pan out either. In fact, he told me specifically to “follow the money”. Which I did–though I didn’t think he imagined I’d follow MSF’s money.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation also has claimed it’s come in as the savior of troubled state programs in each of the states it’s taken over. So I had to consider the possibility this was yet another case of Yogi Berra’s déjà vu all over again.

I also had to wonder about the timing of Thomas P. Di Napoli’s (D) involvement in this article. Di Napoli has been politically ambitious from youth and who had been an Assemblyman before he tried to run for Lt. Governor but bowed out after Spitzer of the so-ethical-and-yet-so-involved-in-a-prostitution-ring fame chose another running mate. Di Napoli then set his sites on becoming Comptroller. He promised to be an  ethical wunderkid—just like Spitzer had promised to be if he was elected Governor. The NY Comptroller is the sole trustee of the $154 billion-dollar NYS pension fund. According to an article published by the NY Times on March 14th—three days before the audit article on MANYS—Di Napoli “also routinely accepts contributions from those seeking to do business with his office, from investment firms, executives and law firms to intermediaries known as placement agents.”

Questions have been mounting about how he manages that multi-billion dollar pension fund and some of the deals he’s been making. So it’s a little odd he gets concerned about supposed financial misdeeds of a non-profit that—even if they had been true—would amount to chump change compared to the shenanigans he’s now suspected of doing. The original article alleged misdeeds that amounted to very little money—however, when AP contacted Di Napoli’s office for comment on the rebuttal suddenly Di Napoli’s office is claiming several hundreds of thousands of dollars were misspent. So which is it?

All of which begs the question because MANYS didn’t lose the contract because of these supposed misdeeds but because MSF submitted a lower bid. Yet the article implies that was the cause. Once again the timeline is important:The contract was awarded in January. The audit wasn’t done until the second week in March. So why would this article suddenly appear and allege financial problems?

Nor was the audit that’s just been completed the first that had been done on MANYS. The politics of rider ed in NY has always been highly contentious—two separate individuals both felt they and they alone should run the program and both separately on more than one occasion created rumors of financial mishandling and audits were subsequently done. In every case MANYS passed. The timing of this one—just as MSF takes over yet another state—becomes interesting and particularly so when allegations after it’s done are published—and…well, you’ll see.

Given the background, then, this article that smears MANYS is awfully convenient as it serves the interests of the rich and powerful in a way that does not serve motorcyclists or the small businessmen that operate the training courses in NY, and it does not serve the truth.

So that’s the broader picture–and the reason that no one should take anything at face value that appears in the media. Including this blog. Ask questions, look for agendas, and always give it the old smell test: who gets power, who gets power, who has the vested interests. Critical reading–a very good skill.

So this–or the next entry is not to say Aiello isn’t the epitome of the stereotypical Brooklyn boy and rather off-putting as a result. Nor is it to say MANYS did a particularly good job running the NY motorcycle program. He could be a total jerk for all I know and the program run poorly.That’s not the issue.

It is to say that it fits a pattern that’s happened over and over of alleging that MSF comes in the savior for poorly run programs, a pattern of smearing opponents and predecessors and a habit of cozying up to influential politicians with runaway ambitions.

Still, there have been allegations made—and the rebuttal that AP consequently published not only didn’t give the space for Aiello to address each allegation. Otoh, it gave Di Napoli a chance to rebut the rebuttal. And that’s just wrong since Aiello didn’t have the opportunity in the first place.

Therefore, it’s more than fair to let Joe Aiello have a chance to tell his side of the story—and that entry will be up tomorrow.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Instructors, Motorcycle Industry, Motorcycle legislation, Motorcycle Rights, Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training, State Motorcycle Safety Programs

6 Comments on “Auditing the AP article on the New York State Motorcycle Program”

  1. A. Nonymous Says:

    I’ve actually seen the MANYS rebuttal to the audit. It shows the auditors to be complete idiots. One example: They complain about some of the options on the truck that MANYS purchased to haul their trailer with 14 motorcycles. In fact, the upgrade needed for hauling that large a trailer was only available with the “unnecessary” options.

  2. V-Stromer Says:

    A clarification. MSF does not have a “sidecar” course. The new 3BRC is a trike-only class, or in their words, a 3-track vehicle: one front wheel and two back wheels (standard trike) or two front wheels and one back wheel (Can-Am Spyder). That is, three separate tire tracks.

    The Evergreen Safety Council S/TEP (Sidecar/Trike Education Program) course is the only national training curriculm that includes sidecars. Can’t see the MSF allowing the S/TEP class to compete with the 3BRC, so New York sidecarists are going to be SOL getting trained.

  3. Jeff Brenton Says:

    The association failed to establish 30 training sites statewide. Aiello said the sites, which require 1 1/2 acres of paved surface, are difficult to come by, so when one site opened, another closed. There are currently 23 sites.

    I can understand how difficult this requirement is… I’ve personally spent hours pouring over aerial photographs looking for suitable sites to help meet the goals the state has set for training over the next few years. The people in charge of such things thought they’d found 3 new sites at the end of last year; only one of them panned out, and there’s a serious threat to lose one that is home to 3 to 4 classes per week, just as training is supposed to begin, because of “changing economic interests” by the host college.

    When I first heard of this situation, I started digging through internet trying to find any justification for the break with MANYS. The closest thing to a hint of a possibility of a reason was the audit done at the end of the previous contract, but all issues found were explained or resolved. I haven’t seen any complaints by instructors working for MANYS that they were corrupt, causing mental anguish, bastards to work for, or anything negative. The fact that they could come up with “as many as 10 association volunteers” to staff a booth at a state fair says a lot for the enthusiasm of those working for MANYS…

    It will be interesting to see if they’re that happy under MSF’s governance, and if MSF can come up with the pavement to meet that “30 ranges” requirement. New York is a big state… surely they’ll find empty lots, if they give up on those silly “close to where people interested in learning to ride live” requirements…

  4. wmoon Says:

    V-Stromer–what, MSF still doesn’t have that curriculum done? They were supposed to have it ready to roll out a year a ago–but I suppose it’s like the on-road course, which Buche had sworn in August of 2004 would be ready the next year.

    Jeff–I’m sure that MSF will find pavement–it will just be a lot smaller. Expect to see compact ranges and modified ranges galore, is my guess.
    W.

  5. Ken Corey Says:

    You should take the opportunity to read the actual conptroller’s report, which can be found on the website at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf/index.htm
    The actual report – 23 pages long – is far less damming than the newsday article. Also, it says the audit was conducted in August 2007. Thanks 1 1/2 years ago. Why wait so long to publish it? What kind of an audit report can be effective 17 months after it was conducted?
    Something is rotten in Albany

  6. wmoon Says:

    Ken,
    Thanks for the suggestion. The actual .pdf file of the report is at: http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093009/07r3.pdf Aiello’s main crime seems to be slipshod documentation–and that’s on him. But it also seems to indicate that Bill Paulter (who is a lovely fellow) and the DMV failed enormously in timely oversight of MANYS. I fully expect the DMV will continue this lack of oversight by falsely trusting in MSF’s false reputation of being a good administrator of programs.

    I daresay virtually every–including MSF-administrated states–would come out poorly if they had to go through the same process.

    W.


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