Tuesday, October 27, 2015

FAMU in a state of confusion over $71,529 garage project at President’s House

The FAMU Division of Audit and Compliance says that there is no documentation to show that the FAMU Board of Trustees (BOT) approved a $71,529 garage project at the on-campus President’s House. But President Elmira Mangum claims that the trustees did give their authorization for the garage to be built.

Confusion over how the detached garage ended up being constructed at the FAMU President’s House swirled during an emergency BOT conference call on Thursday, Oct. 22.

Back on August 12, Rattler Nation became the first news site to run a story on the garage project. This blog reported that FAMU Trustee Robert Woody had claimed in his July 8 individual evaluation of Mangum that the president did not present a garage project at the presidential residence of approximately $77,000 to the BOT for its approval.

The employment agreement between Mangum and the BOT states that: “Dr. Mangum shall obtain prior approval from the Board (or its designee) for any capital improvements or repairs to the home or its grounds which have a project cost over $10,000.”

The Florida auditor general's office asked FAMU Vice-President for Audit and Compliance Richard Givens to look into whether two purchase orders for renovations at the President’s House had received BOT approval. The first was issued February 13, 2014 and was for $300,209. The second, which was for the garage project, was issued on June 19, 2014 and was for $71,529.

“I was not able to find approval for the purchase orders by the Board (or Board designee) in the Board minutes or that the Board approved in separate written correspondence,” Givens wrote to Cheryl Buchanan, an audit coordinator for the Florida auditor general, in a memorandum dated October 1. “Also, as requested in your e-mail dated October 8, I cannot find documentation that the Board was officially notified of the renovation or garage construction.”

Mangum sent a memorandum to the BOT on Oct. 21 that said that: “I did not have any knowledge nor did I authorize or sign off on the construction of the garage. Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that the Board of Trustees authorized the garage project.”

The memorandum from Mangum did not reference any specific documents concerning that claim.

At the emergency BOT conference call on Oct. 22, Student Body President Tonnette Graham asked FAMU General Counsel Avery McKnight whether the President’s House renovations violated Mangum’s contract, which had a start date of April 1, 2014.

“Was she in violation of her contract? Yes or no?” Graham asked him.

“Yes,” McKnight said.

Trustee Nicole Washington then asked: “How would she know? Or were these items passed by her desk?”

“There was a parking garage that was built on that property after April 2014,” McKnight said. “That work was post-employment, not pre-employment.”

McKnight said the garage was one of four projects above $10,000 that each took place at the President’s House after the start date Mangum’s contract without being presented to the BOT for its approval.

Trustee Spurgeon McWilliams, chairman of the BOT Facilities Committee, said that the garage project wasn’t approved by his committee.

“It didn’t go through my committee and it wasn’t presented to the board,” he said.

McWilliams added that if the garage project had been presented to his committee, he would have requested that it be an attached garage instead of detached garage for the purpose of safety. He said he thinks the committee would have approved the garage project if it had been given a chance.

Washington then asked Mangum: “Were you made aware of what was going on prior to these findings?”

Mangum told her that: “None of the information came across my desk.”

Trustee Cleve Warren claimed that the work on the President’s House was done by a consulting contractor that was authorized to complete up to $1 million of work for the university. He said the contractor had the latitude to do that amount of work without the requirement to come back to the BOT for approval.

“I don’t think that Dr. Mangum has asked for or initiated anything to the house that would require her to come to us,” Warren said.

Graham asked Givens who requested the construction of the garage. Givens said that the FAMU Facilities, Planning, Construction, and Safety office made an amendment to the consulting contract for the garage project.

Woody said that he felt that it was Mangum’s responsibility to know about the garage project.

“I think the president is responsible,” Woody said. “If she didn’t know, she should have known.”

Mangum said that accusations of improprieties relating to the President’s House were “a witch hunt for something I had nothing to do with.”

She added that: “I think much of this is defamatory.”

Mangum later narrowly survived two unsuccessful motions to terminate her employment.

The BOT did vote 9-0 to hire an external auditor to conduct a report on the renovation projects at the President’s House and bonuses that were awarded to members of Mangum’s staff.  

Note: This post contains corrections made on January 5, 2016.

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