University of Central Arkansas staff senate members have submitted concerns in writing to the school’s office of internal audit in hopes that their questions will be answered regarding the $700,000 Aramark grant to renovate the president’s home.
A group comprised of heads of staff and faculty senates and the Student Government Association, along with trustee Bobby Reynolds, deferred investigations into possible improprieties to the school’s office of internal audit two weeks ago.
All heads agreed the office, which is accustomed to investigating matters of finances, was better equipped to address the matter.
Staff senate president Dianna Winters said Thursday that though the investigation changed hands, she hopes that questions she and the other groups had will be answered.
In a letter obtained under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act addressed to Pam Massey, director of the office of internal audit, Winters presented the staff concerns.
In the letter, the group asked that a timeline be compiled for events surrounding the grant, "so that we may clearly see who knew what and when."
The $700,000 grant from Aramark was first presented at a board meeting as a gift by both trustee chairman Scott Roussel and former president Allen Meadors.
In an e-mail sent days after the meeting, several trustees learned that the "gift" was in fact a grant contingent upon the renewal of the food vendor’s contract for seven years.
In an earlier interview, trustee Rush Harding III stated such vendor grants were "business as usual" in university contracts.
Several trustees voiced disapproval of the grant’s misrepresentation and for their part in a vote to secure an architect to proceed with drawing plans for renovations for the home under the understanding that the money was a gift and not part of a contingency.
The board accepted Meadors’ resignation Sept. 2 and offered a contractual buyout of more than $500,000.
As reported earlier by the Log Cabin Democrat, Meadors will receive the remainder of his yearly salary until June 30 using public funds, and the remainder of his buyout will be paid for with private funds.
Roussel is still acting as chair of the board.
Members of the staff senate also ask that the office of internal audit find who first developed the idea to approach Aramark for funding renovations at the home, as well as who else may have known about the proposal.
At a called meeting three weeks ago, Diane Newton, vice president of finance and administration, told trustees that a letter from the vendor that outlined the grant’s contingency was sent to her office.
Newton said that she "immediately" walked the letter to Meadors’ office.
"Primarily, we want to understand what happened, what led up to it and who was responsible for what. We’ve since learned that (Tom Courtway, interim president) checked into the legality and it was a legal contract," Winters said in reference to a final question posed by the group regarding Meadors’ contract buyout.
The question reads, "If it is found that Meadors committed fraud or any other illegal activity, is it legally possible for his contract buyout to be reversed?"
According to Winters, her group has already had that question answered.
"That question is moot now because it was a signed contract and we accepted the terms, it doesn’t matter," she said. "It won’t matter if it comes out that (Meadors) did anything wrong, they can’t undo it."
Wilson’s letter further questions Roussel’s involvement and knowledge of the contract stipulation.
"At what point was Scott Roussel made aware that the ‘gift’ was actually quid pro quo? Did he know from the start that it was contingent upon extension of the Aramark contract? Did he knowingly withhold information from the rest of the board," the letter stated.
Newton’s involvement is also questioned.
"Was Diane Newton directed to not disclose the true nature of the gift by President Meadors? Was she pressured to lie or withhold information? Was she asked by Meadors to shred the letter," the letter stated.
Finally, the letter asks the investigating party to find if it was "Meadors or Roussel" that "chose to portray this contract as a gift from a private donor."
UCA’s faculty senate president Janet Wilson and SGA president Austin Hall submitted similar concerns to Massey’s office Friday, Sept. 16.
Jeff Pitchford, vice president of government relations, said Thursday that investigations have already begun.
"I know they’re in the process of interviewing people, but I don’t know when they’ll be done or when their report will be ready," Pitchford said. "They’ll interview everyone they feel they need to interview, put together their findings and present a report to the board through the trustees audit committee."
The office of internal audit reports to a three-person committee of trustees, who then present to the board.
The committee is made up of trustees Rush Harding III, Bobby Reynolds, and Victor Green.
Winters said that pending the results of the investigation, a resolution asking for Roussel’s resignation has been tabled.
"After we learn the outcome of the investigation, we’ll know what to do, if to carry it forward or table it. We want to hold that until he is given a fair chance. If there’s something we don’t understand about the situation, we want to know, but we have passed a resolution asking him to recuse himself for any dealings with Aramark and with things to do with the president’s home" Winters said. "We’re looking forward to putting this behind us and focusing on the positive things going on at the university."
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)