Friday, February 12, 2010

Transparency at NYRA? Not yet, it seems.

The fallout from the New York Racing Association's last public-relations blunder -- first resisting NY State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's request for financial records, then under pressure, turning around and saying it would cooperate with DiNapoli's audit -- continues. Now state budget director Robert Megna, in his capacity as chair of the Oversight Board appointed to ride herd on NYRA when the latter's franchise was renewed back in 2008, wants to know how much NYRA CEO Charlie Hayward and his top assistants are being paid. And once again, NYRA seems to be stonewalling.

According to press reports, in 2006, when NYRA was required to disclose some of its finances as part of its bankruptcy proceeding, Hayward made $377,746, and, even more astonishingly, NYRA general counsel Pat Kehoe made $376,923. Since then, NYRA has replaced the almost certainly underpaid day-to-day operations manager Bill Nader -- who took the money and ran to Hong Kong -- with Hal Handel, who presumably is making something like the salary that Kehoe gets. Informed speculation says that Hayward, and perhaps Kehoe and Handel as well, are making more than $400,000 this year, as NYRA once again teeters on the edge o insolvency. (To be fair, that teetering is caused entirely by the so-called "government" in Albany that continues its farcical inability to get slot machines up and running at Aqueduct.)

NY budget director Megna, by the way, who has what must be one of the most impossible jobs in the state, public or private, earns $178,000 a year. That's a matter of public record.

Hayward told Megna at Wednesday's meeting of the Oversight Board that NYRA just needs a little time -- how much time was unspecified -- to put together a study that shows that Hayward & Co. are really underpaid, at least by the standards of the industry. One hardly knows where to start. So, you're underpaid. That comes with the territory when you're working for an organization that's supported by taxpayer dollars. Even Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs decided it would be wise to take a pay cut while his firm was subsisting on government handouts. And the new crop of General Motors execs had to genuflect to their majority shareholder, the US government, and settle for a lot less than their predecessors made back when the Chevy Bel-Air was the hottest thing on wheels.

And those execs at other tracks, if they are earning more than NYRA folks, just might have a reason for their swollen paychecks. Churchill Downs Inc., for example, actually seems able to make a profit, and hasn't taken any public money. I don't know what the paychecks look like at Frank Stronach's Magna tracks (though I suspect there's a whole lot of severance pay going round), but being part of leading Magna into bankruptcy probably isn't a good resume padder, so perhaps we should throw them out of the comparison altogether.

Sooner or later, just as with the financial documents that DiNapoli asked for, NYRA will have to do an about-face and comply with the state's request for the salary information. Delaying and coming up with dumb excuses just makes Hayward, who I know to be a solid manager who's a great improvement on prior NYRA chiefs, look bad.

C'mon Charlie, just do the right thing.

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