Saturday, August 18, 2007

A followup on 2001 MSSU audit is long overdue


Few people noticed the original Turner Report website during the brief time (from 2000 to 2002) that it was in existence. During that time period, I was breaking stories for about 25 or 30 loyal readers, nearly all of whom, thankfully, have followed me to this version of The Turner Report.
That original website was the first media source to print the 2001 state audit of Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, an audit which ripped into college officials for their subsidization of the private International Piano Competition, as well as for some of their financial arrangements with President Julio Leon. When the rest of the media jumped on the story, they pretty much limited their coverage to what was included in State Auditor Claire McCaskill's report, and as far as I can remember, no followup was ever done on whether the college (now university) corrected the problems cited in the report.
When an official resigns suddenly and immediately as Julio Leon did Friday, without even giving an adequate amount of transition time, there is bound to be speculation. And while it may have nothing whatsoever to do with any wrongdoing (there could always be health or family reasons), the fact that the media gave Dr. Leon a free pass after its initial reporting of the 2001 audit, may very well have opened the door for more problems.

In the Feb. 27, 2006, Turner Report, I called for such a followup, but apparently no one thought it would be worth the time. But it still needs to be done, even if all it does is show that Dr. Leon and the Board of Governors have been diligent in conducting their business and following all rules and regulations.

Back to the 2001 audit. This was the yellow sheet, or summary, that the state auditor published:

Questionable practices at Missouri Southern State College include awarding vendor
contracts in exchange for donations, and free international trips for employees’
spouses.

Our audit covered fiscal years 1998 and 1999 and noted 14 findings in areas such as
questionable contracting practices, concerns of nepotism, weak travel policies, public funding of a private nonprofit organization, overpayments to seminar coordinators, and unreasonable and improper expenditures. The following highlight the audit’s conclusions:
Food vendor made donations to the college to gain and keep contract.
College officials have not bid the food service contract since 1994 and have not reviewed student surveys evaluating the food quality. In addition, the food vendor has donated $325,000 to the college for capital improvements and $15,000 to a private, nonprofit organization run by the college president’s wife. As a result of a 1997 donation of $200,000 for a new cafeteria, the college extended the vendor’s contract through June 2005. Because the contract has not been bid since 1994, college officials cannot assure the campus has the most qualified vendor at the best cost.
Reviews of international trips revealed weak travel policies.
Between July 1, 1998 and March 31, 2000, the college spent approximately $655,000 on
international travel; however, the college has not established formal written travel policies and procedures. As a result, we noted inaccurate reporting of trip expenditures, inconsistency in the number of trip chaperones, and no bidding of travel agents.
In addition, the spouses of the chorale director and a music professor went on free trips to Austria with the student choir, a trip which the students raised money to attend. These complimentary trips, totaling $3,246, materialized when the travel agent awarded one free trip to the college for the large group attending, and the college’s International Studies department allocated excess funding to the music professor.
College officials, in response to our audit, have agreed to repay the costs of the free trips and develop travel policies and procedures
The college provided public funds to a private piano competition.
The college pays the operating expenses for the Missouri Southern International Piano
Competition, a nonprofit organization run by the college President’s wife.In addition, the college’s contract with their food vendor provides for donations to this organization. Using public funds to pay expenses of a private nonprofit organization violates the Missouri Constitution.
Criminal justice seminars coordinators were overpaid.
A college vice president and a criminal justice professor together received compensation of approximately $87,500 in addition to their regular salaries for coordinating criminal justice seminars. These individuals’ inaccurate reports of the seminar resulted in excess compensation of $1,522 each.
In addition, the inadequate documentation did not show the number of participants or the amount each participant paid, which made it impossible to verify reported revenues.
College officials responded that they have revised their policy governing these seminars, and will request reimbursement of the overpayments from the vice president and the criminal justice professor,
The college’s nepotism policy has not been strictly followed.
A college vice president/dean supervised his son, an assistant professor in his father’s department.
College policy does not allow this type of hiring unless without written approval from the college president. In addition, the vice president/dean approved a $1,000 dean’s initiative grant for his son, and $8,650 in additional compensation for hours he taught beyond his original employment contract.
The college responded that the president provided verbal approval for the son’s hiring, and that the father no longer serves as the dean of his son’s department.
Some expenditures appear unreasonable and improper.
The college paid $30,317 for a $1.5 million life insurance policy for the College President but is the beneficiary for only $500,000 of the policy. In addition, the college paid $1,145 to send the President to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for his annual physical examination.
The theatre director used excess fees collected from continuing education students to fund two $882 trips to New York City for two college secretaries.
During fiscal years 1998 and 1999, the college spent more than $22,000 hosting a formal Christmas ball for employees and the Board of Regents. The college responded that they believe this expenditure is a good investment in people.
Our audit also reviewed the college’s policies regarding the use of college-funded vehicles, cellular phones, and credit cards. The audit also noted bonuses paid to college staff and loans to professors not being properly monitored and collected.


On this page of the state auditor's website, you will find a link to the 2001 audit. If you carefully read through the responses provided by college officials to the auditor's report, it is not difficult to pick up a tone of defiance throughout, and while some of the criticisms cited in the audit are a bit nitpicky, most of them raised legitimate concerns and were treated in a somewhat cavalier fashion.

And the media never followed up.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The part of the story that was missed by the media wasn't a four year old Turner Report. It was Leon's age. None of the TV stations nor the Joplin Globe mentioned that Leon is past 70, was eligable to retire more than a decade ago and worked well past the time most others retire.

Anonymous said...

For the record, he's 69.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 2, for the record, what is the day and month and year of his birth?

Anonymous said...

March 27, 1938

Anonymous said...

I hardly think his age entered into it when he retired so suddenly. Also, his announcement came shortly after the Board met. Hmmm. Makes me wonder.
Anyone else think it strange he mentioned his wife in his retirement speech? Maybe that's just the way it's done.

Another Anonomyous Person said...

He always mentioned his wife; they are very close. His wife has taken some criticism in the past for her role in the Piano Competition, and for other things - she is known as "the Dragon Lady" by many, because she is ruthless. The main problem with the Leons is that they are arrogant and elitist beyond measure. But those are personal comments. Julio Leon's biggest failure as an adminstrator was his death grip control of everything, big and small, and his inabilty to delegate. He trusted nobody. He had an ironclad policy of making all the decisions, especially regarding the International Mission. And he was almost always present at faculty senate meetings, according to accounts from senators. It will be interesting to watch the scavengers as they race from their nooks and crannies to gobble up the detritus he leaves in his wake.
Stay tuned, kids, and fasten your seat belts - it will be, as Betty Davis promised, a bumpy ride.

MSSU Grad said...

People know not what they talk about. Folks, Dr. Leon took a sleepy little four-year college and turned it into one that now has some national and international prominence. Sure, he made some mistakes along the way, but they were minimal ones. Anyone who has been president for 25 is bound to have a few critics out there. (If he was that bad of a president, why does MSSU have the lowest faculty turnover of any university in the state?)

The 25 years Dr. Leon was president will someday be reflected on as the glory years. It was a period when MSSU made remarkable strides in several areas. If the new president can accomplish a fraction of what Dr. Leon did, we'll all be happy.

Anonymous said...

To MSSU Grad:
You should have been Leon's speechwriter! (Actually, I wish you HAD been his speechwriter)... but I digress.
What you say has some truth, but the other is also true, that he was a control freak. Yes, the glory years, but yes, no autonomy.
What worries some of us now is, that without knowing how to govern ourselves because we weren't allowed to, we now have a huge vacuum. Pardon the comparison -- I do NOT think Leon was a despotic dictator - but it is very much like what happened in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was taken from power.
Now the Civil War begins.

Anonymous said...

There is now a vacuum of leadership on campus--weakness in most every top administrative position and in many, many department head positions, but--worst of all--in the Board of Governors which, without thinking the situation through, created the potential for utter chaos on campus. I fear for the international mission, for academic programs, for faculty stability. Athletics appears to be safe.

Anonymous said...

Life on campus will be very uncomfortable for awhile. In response to another poster, above, it is not true that MSSU has a low turnover rate. Take a look at the real numbers.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Board of Governors and Mr. Dwight Douglas in particular have created quite a mess. MSSU is going through accreditation this year, so the timing couldn't be any worse. I hope the accreditation board takes a look at the Board of Governors and makes a recommendation that Mr. Douglas's power needs to be checked. I just wish the other governors had the backbone to stand up to him.

Anonymous said...

All these comments are exagerated. There is no one that cannot be replaced. If it is true that chaos will rule after Dr. Leon leaves that would be the worst indictment of his leadership. I think MSSU will be just fine in part because Leon wasn't that bad.

Anonymous said...

You are right, MSSU will be fine. It will be business as usual. The thing that bothers me, though, is how shabbily Dr. Leon was treated by the board. After 25 years as president, he deserved to go out on his terms. Being forced to retire on the spot was very cruel to a man who devoted his entire career to MSSU. Dr. Leon deserved a nice, graceful exit that would have allowed the campus and the community the opportunity to celebrate all that he accomplished while looking forward to the future.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the Board tried for the last 2 1/2 years to get Dr. leon to develop a succession plan and he refused. So this criticism of the Board is unfair and unfounded.

Anonymous said...

If that is true, then the board needs to inform us. We MSSU employees have the right to know. Right now, all we have are rumors and innuendos. The board's silence is deafening.

But who creates his own succession plan anyway? I've never heard of such a thing in higher education.

Anonymous said...

Every CEO develops a succession plan. It isn't for him or her but for the organization. Higher education may be in the dark ages, but progressive organizations always prepare for the future. As to informing you, of course there was nothing to inform you about because no effort was made by the administration to create a succession plan despite the advancing age of the President, and persistent requests from the board. The succession at Missouri State a couple of years ago is a great example, and yes the outgoing President John Kaiser developed a plan that led to a smooth transition. So now you have heard of such a thing. I am not on this Board but they seem to have handled this as gracefully and courteously as circumstances would permit, including allowing Dr. Leon to choose the date of his departure and to determine the location and time and manner of his announcement.

Anonymous said...

Dwight Douglas may be a problem. I have heard rumors that he, himself, is interested in the job of President - and he seems to have packed the search committee with people he can control. What is the procedure for impeaching members of the board?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that David Haffner of Leggett & Platt will be a formidable committee member. But it makes you wonder why over half the search committee is not even from the campus.