Arts Director Defends Dual Roles

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Heather Hitchens, director of the state Council on the Arts, sought to beat back criticism yesterday over her unusual dual roles as an agency head and a paid consultant for the Empire State Development Corp.

The Times-Union’s Jim Odato wrote about Hitchens’ positions in a column last month in which Hitchens earns $109,800 as the agency’s director but then another $25,200 per year under a contract with ESDC, which oversees the state’s tourism arm.

Hitchens, during a hearing of the Assembly Tourism and Arts Committee, said the situation isn’t ideal, but that she was offered the dual roles when she took office in 2007 as an appointee under Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

She said the positions were “aimed for fostering closer relationship with NYSCA and ESD, and I think I did that and I think there was some good things about it.”

But she added, “Would I liked to just be paid through one entity? Yes. This was what was presented to me.”

Still, Assembly Committee Chairman Steve Englebright, D-Suffolk County, questioned the arrangement, saying any deal like that should have been brought to the Legislature.

Englebright didn’t fault Hitchens, but said, “What you’re offered, however, is either not in accord with law or certainly not in the spirit of law and does create some problems, not that you’re the creator of the problem. To a certain extent, you’re the victim of circumstance.”

He added that “the executive who did this is now on television” but that “if an executive wants to do things like this, they should come to the Legislature and get authorization.”

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