Monday, May 7, 2007

Half-Million Dollar Baby: Questionable Fiscal Management

According to published reports, Charles A. Taylor was abruptly fired as chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane where his management prompted numerous former employees to file discrimination law suits, resulting in nearly half a million dollars awarded to the former employees (at taxpayers’ expense, none from Taylor’s pocket).

After his dismissal, the board of trustees discovered that a reserve account of nearly $2 million had been drained to less than $200,000 by the time of his departure. Most of that was spent on the rental of office space in a new office building, the downtown Riverpoint One, a waterfront property along the Spokane River.

The board also claimed that Taylor had not told them about other financial decisions, such as purchasing (for half a million dollars) a student registration and book ordering system . . . that didn’t work.

Taylor frequently likes to depict himself as the object of unfair scrutiny and biased oversight. For example, after an audit revealed an irregularity in which he used a Community Colleges of Spokane charge card to pay for his wife’s airfare (nearly $2,000) on a “business” trip that he was making to Africa, he was quoted as saying “I’ve been under more scrutiny than any other CEO for doing the same types of travel or making the same administrative decisions.” After being summarily fired from the Community Colleges of Spokane, Taylor characterized the dismissal as “absolutely unfair.” The inability to admit his own management blunders seems to characterize his executive employment. It’s always somebody else’s fault or the result of bias against him.

After he left Peralta Community College District in Oakland, California (to become president of a community colllege in Virginia) the Berkeley Daily Planet reported that a construction project that Taylor had overseen required numerous change orders that were the result of his mismanagement.

Peralta General Services Director Sadiq Ikharo told the Peralta Board of Trustees that a little over half a million dollars had been spent for “change orders” on the $65 million Vista project. Vista College President Judy Walters told the trustees that she would present them with a package of new requested “change orders” and blamed the need for those changes on former Peralta chief operating officer Charles A. Taylor, who she said “cut off communications between Vista [the college] and Ratcliff [construction project designers Ratcliff Architects] in November of 2003. We knew back then that these changes were needed but for whatever reason, Charles Taylor told Vista representatives they couldn’t talk to the architects.”

There has never been evidence of deliberate fraud, but a pattern of fiscal problems is alarming.


Want to find out more? Further reading:
  • Audit finds CCS erred by ‘loaning’ state credit, by Virginia de Leon, Spokesman Review, June 22, 2001
  • Settlements Drain CCS, Taxpayers, The Spokane Spokesman-Review, September 30, 2001
  • CCS Finds Reserves Depleted, The Spokesman-Review, November 8, 2001
  • Who’s to blame by Pia K Hansen, The Pacific Northwest Inlander, November 8, 2001
  • Report of Whistleblower Investigation, CCS, #01-133, May 22, 2001
  • CCS leaders’ spending outpaces WSU, EWU by Virginia de Leon, Spokesman Review, February 1, 2002
  • New Vista College Campus on Track for 2006, Berkley Daily Planet, April 26, 2005


Anonymous said...

Deja Vu, all over again!!!

More info from Spokane......

Settlements drain CCS, taxpayers
Spokesman Review, The (Spokane), Sep 30, 2001 by Virginia de Leon Staff writer

Resolving lawsuits and complaints from Community Colleges of Spokane employees has cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars in the past two years - enough money to pay the annual tuition of 258 students.

CCS spent nearly $192,620 from its budget to address complaints from former and current employees, including two top administrators, litigation settlement and release agreements show.

Another $255,000 was used from the state's tort claim fund during the same time period to settle two lawsuits. While that money doesn't come out of CCS' pockets, it's still funded by taxpayers.

"That money could have been put to better use," said Kenneth Avery, a faculty member at Spokane Falls Community College. It's especially significant in light of the tight budget year, he said.

Although there are no statistics showing how much community colleges statewide spend on settlements, recent payouts involving CCS are not unusual. They're also done with advice from the Office of the Attorney General, which represents community colleges and public universities in legal matters.
"It's part of the cost of doing business," said Tay Conrad, CCS vice chancellor for business and finance. "The settlements are often quicker and cheaper (than litigation). ... It's fairly normal in public school districts and colleges for these sort of things to happen."

Two of these settlements, however, involve the departure of two executives - at a time when CCS is under scrutiny for high turnover among administrators and the recent demotion of Diana Van Der Ploeg, former SFCC president.
Except for Conrad, who's been with CCS for 28 years, the rest of CCS' top administrators are recent hires, most of them replacing people who had retired or found other jobs.

The criticism - particularly from SFCC faculty - stems from the July reassignment of Van Der Ploeg and the loss of experienced administrators like Jennifer Roseman and Ron LaFayette, who both received settlements last year.

With Van Der Ploeg, CCS has another personnel issue on its hands, and possibly another settlement.

The former SFCC president has filed a lawsuit against Charles Taylor, CCS chancellor and CEO. She may file another suit against CCS, she said. Van Der Ploeg, who was SFCC president for 1-1/2 years, was reassigned in July shortly after disagreeing with Taylor during a board of trustees meeting. She left CCS last month, after she was hired as interim president of Olympic College in Bremerton. Van Der Ploeg is suing Taylor for allegedly retaliating against her and violating her First Amendment rights. She's trying to schedule a meeting with CCS' board of trustees to discuss her demotion. Before her reassignment, her contract with CCS had been renewed up to June 2004 with an annual salary of $124,440.

Since July 1999, CCS has settled five complaints and two lawsuits from former and current employees, according to CCS records. Five of the seven involved faculty members.
Two complaints were filed last year by administrators: Roseman, former vice chancellor for institutional advancement, and LaFayette, executive vice president of CCS' Institute for Extended Learning. Roseman resigned in March last year after Taylor demoted her to associate vice chancellor for public relations. Her departure, along with the reassignment of Geoff Eng, a former vice chancellor who died in May, led some to criticize Taylor. Eight months later, Taylor reassigned LaFayette to work for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. At that time, Taylor said he received a request from the state board. LaFayette, who had worked for CCS since 1989, is now the president of North Seattle Community College.
He and Roseman, who are both over 40, filed age discrimination claims against Taylor and CCS, but revoked the claims as part of their settlements. In exchange for her resignation and dropping her complaint, Roseman received a contract buyout and settlement of $97,000. Part of the deal involved a confidentiality agreement in which "neither party purposely disparage the other."
Roseman declined to be interviewed, citing the confidentiality agreement. Now the religious community director of communications for Sisters of Providence, Roseman was a CCS employee for 7-1/2 years.
LaFayette received $60,000 for dropping his age discrimination claim, and for resigning as the IEL's executive vice president in June 2001. He also agreed to be reassigned in January 2001 to the state board. Although the position of executive vice president for the IEL was temporarily filled this year, CCS is still seeking a permanent replacement.

"I would have preferred staying and completing the work to making the IEL into a third college," LaFayette said during a phone interview. "Essentially, Dr. Taylor apparently felt that he wanted different leadership so we negotiated the departure."
LaFayette said he is satisfied with the settlement and that he was treated fairly. Looking back, however, he thinks his intentions may have been misunderstood because he had been a finalist for a president's job at Bates Technical College in Tacoma. Taylor, in previous interviews, said CCS didn't want "to get in the way" of someone aspiring to be a college president.

"I always felt that I didn't want to be somewhere where the leadership didn't want me," said LaFayette, who had also served as the interim president of Spokane Community College for a year while he was the IEL's executive vice president. "My 11 years at the IEL was an absolutely wonderful, positive and fulfilling experience," he said. "Things worked out well for me. I'm pleased to be where I am now."

The other five who filed complaints or lawsuits against the district but later settled are: Laverne Foxley, professional exempt (employees who are not paid for overtime work), unlawful retaliation claim, $130,000; John Larue, tenured faculty, age discrimination claims, $11,500; Colletta Young, professional exempt, age discrimination claims, $4,120; William Rambo, part-time faculty, alleged violation of civil rights, $125,000; and Jill Swanson, part- time faculty, discrimination claims, $20,000.

Although some had filed their grievances before 1999 - and before Taylor's arrival - agreements with CCS were made between July 1999 and August 2001. Community colleges get sued for a variety of reasons, said Howard Fischer, senior assistant attorney general in Olympia. But there is no statistical way to see if one college or district gets more complaints than another because they all vary in size and scope, he said.

There also isn't a specific formula to prevent lawsuits and complaints, Fischer said. But like other businesses or organizations, "communication is essential ... and expectations should be clear," he said. The hiring process is also important.
CCS and Taylor may have received some recent criticism for the personnel changes, but many people support the decisions, said Dennis Machart, SFCC student body president. Machart doesn't object to the money for the settlements because he sees it as cheaper than going to court. CCS officials also "had to get things over with so they can focus on the educational process," he said.

"I'm a strong supporter of Dr. Taylor," Machart said. "His critics are people who are set in their ways and are hesitant to see changes."

I guess you just can't make this stuff up no matter how vivid your imagination. Let's see, there is even the kind soul who defends the subject of the nice!!!! Locations may change, time may pass, but it seems some things just don't alter given patterns.

That cry of too much scrutiny was echoed not too long after TNCC President Shirley Pippins relocated to the Monroe Community College system....seems a few overseas trips raised some eyebrows from the board up there.

Anonymous said...

Blame cannot lay on one person. Board, Cabinet, AVP's VP's. Who really knew what was going on?

Anonymous said...

The Va. fraud, waste, abuse hotline has been called.

Anonymous said...

I just wonder if any Federal monies were compromised by this inept group of fiscal misfits. I think even the Marx brothers (Remember Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo & Gummo?!!) could have done a better job "minding the store" than the group in place now, with the exception of the new VP for Finance. I think he may be the only one on that campus who actually knows what a dollar sign represents and where the decimal point is supposed to go!!!!

If there is cause to believe that Federal monies or programs were compromised at TNCC, then the Commonwealth of Virginia's Fraud, Waste & Abuse group may be in for a whole new world of "a bucket of worms." I don't think the refrain of "It didn't happen on my watch" will work with the Feds!!!!