Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Renovations, $371,738 at FAMU and $274,536 at FGCU, lead to testy exchanges

Front door at FAMU President’s House 
installed in Sept. 2014 for $11,519
Today, Florida A&M University is set to receive a report from Grant Thornton LLP that will include a review of controversial renovations at the on-campus President’s House.

On Oct. 1, the Florida auditor general’s office asked FAMU Vice-President Rick Givens to look into whether two purchase orders for renovations at the President’s House had received Board of Trustees approval. The first was issued February 13, 2014 and was for $300,209. The second, which was for a garage project, was issued on June 19, 2014 and was for $71,529.

The employment agreement between President Elmira Mangum and the BOT states that that the president “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.”

At the emergency FAMU Board of Trustees (BOT) conference call on Oct. 22, Mangum stated she hadn’t asked for or approved those renovations. She said that accusations of improprieties relating to the President’s House were “a witch hunt for something I had nothing to do with.” Mangum also added that: “I think much of this is defamatory.”

FGCU Edwards Hall Renovations Controversy

FAMU isn’t the only public university in Florida that has seen a testy public exchange over renovations.

Florida Board of Governors (BOG) Inspector General Joseph K. Maleszewski examined a set of renovations at Edwards Hall on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) after receiving a request to do so from then-BOG Chairman Mori Hosseini on Oct. 29. Hosseini asked Maleszewski to conduct the review with “a focus on space designated as the Vice President and Chief of Staff's Office Suite.”

That move apparently caused some dissention on the BOG. The News-Press reported on critical comments that BOG member Edward Morton made after learning about it. 

“Reads like a fishing expedition,” Morton told FGCU Trustee Blake Gable in an email. “Someone appears to be blowing the whistle from inside FGCU. How would the BOG even know about routine office renovations or contracts regarding specific individuals?”

Maleszewski released his report on Dec. 18 and said that the Edwards Hall renovations in question totaled $274,536.09. He concluded that the renovations “generally conformed with applicable regulations and policies.”

“At this time, I am not going to comment on what I believe to be the motivation behind those statements and actions,” FGCU Chief of Staff Susan Evans said of the still anonymous tipster who complained about the renovations to the BOG. “Suffice it to say it has felt personally directed. Let's put it that way.”

FGCU Trustee Dick Klaas said he felt someone was attempting hurt Evan’s reputation.

“And whoever this coward is should come forward,” Klaas said at a December FGCU BOT meeting. “There is somebody with an agenda, clearly. I am going to work to find out who it is because you know better than I there are no secrets in state government or federal.”

“She just does not deserve it,” Klaas added. “I want to find out who is behind this because it's a serious injustice. It's a sin as far as I am concerned.”

BOG member Alan Levine later expressed concerns about Klaas’ statements in an email to Chancellor Marshall Criser, III.

“If Trustee Klaas indeed made the comments attributed to him in the story, I believe such comments rise to a level that requires a better understanding of his intent,” Levine told Criser in the email. “If Trustee Klaas intends to retaliate against an individual for reporting something, I believe this is a matter that needs review by his appointing authority and/or legal review.”

Levine asked Criser to forward his email to Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Klaas. Criser told the News-Press that he complied with that request.

Klaas, when asked by the News-Press, “said he didn't like the tone of Levine's email, but he said Levine might have a point about whether his comments could discourage someone from reporting wrongdoing.”

The BOG inspector has also asked to be updated about the on-going examination of the President’s House renovations at FAMU.

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