The state auditor’s office has responded to claims by former Cape Fear Community College president Dr. Ted Spring’s attorney that a financial investigation into spending was flawed and politically biased.
In its recently released findings, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) found that while head of the college, Spring, who was hired in 2012, gave raises and promotions to employees without board approval, used discretionary money for personal expenditures and was reimbursed more for mileage than he actually spent out-of-pocket.
The monthslong probe was launched earlier this year in response to complaints about improper travel reimbursements paid to Spring, who stepped down in January and has since filed suit against the CFCC Board of Trustees.
Responding to the audit report, Spring’s attorney, Gary Shipman, argued that the fault lies with the board of trustees, who “adopted or failed to adopt policies” related to the alleged mishandling of funds, and the state auditor, whose findings seemed “more politically correct than factually correct.”
“Dr. Spring steadfastly maintains that he did absolutely nothing wrong, and the suggestion he ‘misappropriated’ anything is so divorced from the independence that this report is required to have as to be almost unworthy of further comment,” Shipman wrote.
In its own written response issued Wednesday, OSA refutes Shipman’s claims of impartiality.
“OSA’s investigative process included interviews with factual knowledge relative to the allegations, as well as analysis of documentation that supported or refuted their claims…OSA examined all relevant documents and records pertaining to the allegations,” State Auditor Beth Wood wrote.
Although he dismisses the entire audit and its process, Shipman, feeling the need to take “aggressive action to salvage a good reputation,” takes specific issue with the finding that Spring surreptitiously promoted and gave approximately $48,000 in raises to employees in top administrative positions.
Instead, Shipman said, Spring worked with CFCC’s then director of human resources, John Upton, to reclassify and readjust positions and salaries to align them with state policy.
“Contrary to the findings of this report, the bylaws of CFCC do not require the president to secure the consent of the board of trustees to approve raises and title changes,” Shipman said.
OSA disagrees, claiming bylaws do indeed stipulate board approval for “hiring, raises and promotions.”
Additionally, OSA found in its review of meeting minutes that Spring adhered to those bylaws in 2014, but not in 2013. And OSA claims that Upton was responding to “directives” from Spring related to the personnel actions in question.
Shipman has also called into question the finding that Spring misappropriated $36,000 in vending funds–intended to supplement areas of the college where state or local county funds are not appropriated–for various travel and other expenses. He says that Spring was “informed before he was hired” that the vending account was available for the expenditures for he which used them during his time at CFCC.
Again, the OSA dismisses these claims, arguing that the expenses Spring paid for through the fund were “of a personal nature.” Included in the $36,000 was $7,500 Spring used to hire a public relations firm in response to negative media coverage about him and $1,461 to pay for his wife’s travel expenses. He also spent more than $2,000 on meals, convention registrations and upgrades to accommodations for both himself and his wife.
While Shipman concludes that Spring, acting in ignorance or in accordance with advice from his staff, did nothing wrong, OSA’s take is that a “community college president shares the responsibility for ensuring policy and procedures are followed and must set a tone at the top that exemplifies compliance, integrity and fiscal responsibility.”
The CFCC Board of Trustees has agreed with the state’s finding.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.