GPC budget crisis recap: a year later, all is well?

Almost two years after Georgia Perimeter College’s $25 million budget shortfall and everything appears to be back to normal.

In an email from Interim President Rob Watts earlier this year, he confirmed to faculty and staff via email that all is well at GPC:

Just as a reminder, we had an extremely poor state audit report for the previous fiscal year, fiscal year 2012, which covered the period July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, ground zero of the college’s financial crisis.  The fiscal year 2012 report contained seven audit findings, of which five were classified as material weaknesses, the worst kind of audit finding.  In addition, the auditors found a number of figures in our financial statements that they needed to correct.

Lay of the open records lawsuit

As many of you know, I filed lawsuit against the University System of Georgia on June 10, 2013. Since then a lot has happened.

USG’s Verified Answers and Defenses

In response to my complaint, the Board of Regents is invoking several defenses from claiming that “no wrongful act [was] committed” to the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” I doubt that any of their defenses will hold up, but my guess is that this is an attempt to throw everything they can at us to see what sticks. Also, the BOR claims that my allegations and requests are now “moot” because — after I was forced to file a lawsuit — they “produced all responsive documents within [their] possession custody, and control.”

If you’ll remember, I wrote several blog posts that highlighted how business is conducted among top officials at the USG following their response to my complaint, which included open records that had not yet been produced. It also raised more questions regarding Georgia Perimeter College’s budget deficit.

CBS joins the investigation

Last night CBS Atlanta News did a segment on my lawsuit against the University System of Georgia, which I filed over open records act violations while investigating Georgia Perimeter College’s $16 million dollar deficit.

My story is just another piece of the puzzle in a series of investigations into the Board of Regents by Jeff Chirico that show: Regents don’t read employee appeals, Regents accused of ethical violations, and — surprise! — Regents hiding records that show mismanagement.

I’m really glad that this story came out and I hope it continues to shine the light on USG’s Board of Regents, a governing body with no accountability. This cannot be acceptable. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I don’t think allowing a Governor to appoint whoever he wants to be in charge of a billion dollar budget is the way to go.

To the commenters on my blog

Normally I would respond to each person individually, but given the level of bickering going on I figured I might as well address all of it in one fell swoop.

  1. Above all else, I am an advocate for full disclosure and accountability in government. Can anyone tell me to a 100 percent certainty where the money at Georgia Perimeter College was misspent? No, you cannot. Not if you’re relying solely on their special review audit.

    The millions of dollars that was just misspent because the “right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing” is inexcusable. What’s more, the internal audit (no conflict of interest there) was incomplete, did not represent a full scale audit, and even admits that “fraud or malfeasance” could have gone undetected because of its incompleteness.

Crowdsourcing: newest batch of University System of Georgia emails

I’ve had a productive week on this blog thanks to a new release of documents from the University System of Georgia. Granted, it’s not the full amount that I’ve requested, but this latest set of emails shows that my “broad” request was necessary. The wider the net, the less of a chance the USG will have to fish out what they don’t want us to see.

Once again, they used the same process of printing out each document and scanning them back into a PDF image file as to circumvent the ability to keyword search. I’m almost positive that this isn’t accidental. As I’ve done before, I ran the emails through an optical character recognizer, so anyone has the ability to search these 700 something pages of emails.

Here’s the download link.

Please feel free to email me any tips. I’ll respect all requests for anonymity.

University System of Georgia colleges on a ‘GPC path’

Before the news of Georgia Perimeter College’s fiscal misfortunate broke, John Fuchko, USG’s chief audit officer, expressed his concerns regarding other institutions.

While the USG officially claimed to have no culpability their lack of budget oversight, Steve Wrigley, executive vice chancellor for administration, wrote he was “flabbergasted the system office allowed it to go on.”

In that same email between Wrigley, John Fuchko, chief audit officer, and John Brown, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs, discuss a talking points memo regarding what went wrong at GPC.

Georgia Gwinnett College then comes on the radar when Ben Riden, associate vice chancellor for fiscal affairs, says that GGC’s auxiliaries were “headed toward a negative overall operating position in 2013.”

Brown further’s this concern in another email, subject line entitled: “Help!”

Fighting over the checkbook at the University System of Georgia

Last month, the University System of Georgia released its (“pat myself on the back”) economic impact study. According to their findings, the USG’s institutions had $14.1 billion “direct and indirect” impact on the economy.

Georgia Perimeter College’s impact was the greatest, at $774 million, compared to all other USG institutions.

How much did it cost do do this study?

According to email correspondence between the USG’s John Brown, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs, and Steve Wrigley, executive vice chancellor for administration, it was $30,000.

Not knowing where the money to pay for this was coming from, a frustrated Brown goes on to say, “I give up.” He later adds how much he “sweats the budget to do the things [Wrigley] and Hank [Huckaby] want done.”

Brown’s email also notes how he would rather have heard it come from Wrigley instead of Tom Daniel, senior vice chancellor, as a directive. “This directive on top of the Jamie Fernandez salary issue.”

Surprise: Ron Carruth and Sheletha Champion were fired

This probably doesn’t come as a shock to any of you, but new documents that were provided by the University System of Georgia following my open records lawsuit show that Rob Watts had four “intense discussions” shortly after his appointment as Georgia Perimeter College’s interim president.

In an email to faculty and staff on May 15, 2012, Watts told the GPC community that Carruth, GPC’s chief budget officer, and Champion, GPC’s assistant vice president for fiscal affairs, had “left” the college. No specifics as to why, but that came later when the special audit report was released and they were blamed, along with former President Anthony Tricoli, for the $25 million budget deficit at GPC.

According to this email from Watts to Chancellor Hank Huckaby, it looks like Carruth and Champion were given a choice between resigning or being fired:

The theory of GPC

Those of you who’ve been following my investigation into Georgia Perimeter College’s $25 million shortfall know that I recently sued the University System of Georgia for withholding open records pertaining to the budget deficit.

The pending litigation has obviously slowed down my ability to do some hard reporting but, nevertheless, I am going to speculate on what happened at GPC, why it happened, and what it means for the rest of the USG. In this speculation, I’ll also be releasing information that has been passed on to me by anonymous sources, which I have not yet been able to fully substantiate.

GPC1

There was no budget deficit at GPC

Two days after I filed lawsuit against the USG and GPC to get the emails I’d requested, Interim President Rob Watts decided to change GPC’s email retention policy.

Email from anonymous GPC employee:

Today I sued the University System of Georgia

Official press release from the Student Press Law Center:

A former Georgia Perimeter College student journalist filed a lawsuit today against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia for failing to produce public records concerning a $25 million budget shortfall that occurred at Georgia Perimeter College (“GPC”) in 2012.

The budget shortfall was first disclosed on May 7, 2012 and resulted in the layoff of 282 GPC employees and the dismissal of the president, Anthony Tricolli. Shortly thereafter, David Schick, then Editor-in-Chief of the GPC student newspaper, The Collegian, filed Open Records Act requests with GPC and the Board of Regents concerning the budget shortfall and the layoffs.

Mr. Schick, who is now an Atlanta-based freelance journalist and blogger, filed the lawsuit today in Fulton County Superior Court seeking an injunction directing the University System to comply with the Georgia Open Records Act. According to the lawsuit,1 the University System has not produced all the records Mr. Schick has requested and has instead engaged in numerous delaying tactics.

USG pays Skybridge Global $8.7 million since 2008

After Georgia Perimeter College experienced its $16 million dollar budget deficit last year, the University System of Georgia did a special audit review.

In the audit, USG listed other “significant” payments to a consulting firm known as Skybridge Global. It claimed that GPC paid only $2.5 million from October 2005 to February 2012.

According to Open.Georgia.gov, that is incorrect.

In fact, GPC isn’t the only college or institution within the USG that has contracted with Skybridge Global. Georgia Gwinnett College, Medical College of Georgia, and the Board of Regents, among others within the USG, have paid a total of $8,796,881 to the consulting firm from 2008 to 2012.

As noted by the above graph, the most notable payments are from GPC, GGW, Medical College of Georgia, and the Board of Regents. What’s most intriguing is that GPC accounts for 46 percent ($4,076,381) of all payments to Skybridge. Here’s a table separated by college and year listing specific payments.

Was GPC president the fall guy?

When Georgia Perimeter College experienced its $16 million budget deficit last May, former President Anthony Tricoli was terminated. He didn’t pass go, he didn’t collect $200, he was expelled entirely from the game board.

The obvious detriment to his reputation would undoubtedly make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to ever be a college president again.

So, I’m curious to know why the former University System of Georgia Chancellor, Erroll Davis — who is the current interim president of Atlanta Public Schools — would nominate him for another presidential position at a two-year school in Queensbury, NY.

Besides recommending Tricoli for the president position at SUNY Adirondack, Davis goes even further and implies that the budget crisis at GPC was not Tricoli’s fault. His letter specifically states that the situation was “hidden” from Tricoli.