Four Trustees Resign at Bethune-Cookman, Former Board Chair Misrepresents Knowledge of Dorm Deal Financials
By JL Carter Sr.
Four members of Bethune-Cookman University’s Board of Trustees have resigned, board chair Michelle Carter-Scott has confirmed amid growing demands from alumni calling for an executive shake-up at the embattled institution.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal confirms the resignations of former board chair Joe Petrock, Rafael A. Ramirez Jr., Michael D. Walsh and Nancy Lohman. Scott told the News-Journal that she expects more resignations in the coming weeks.
The departures follow alum-ni demands for board members to resign immediately, which were made public yesterday in a letter written by BCU National Alumni Association President Robert Delancy.
From the News-Journal: B-CU’s board meetings are private and the results of those meetings are not made public, but Carter-Scott confirmed the resignations after Thursday’s meeting, which she said she called to discuss campus concerns about school finances, as well as the alumni letter.
After a board meeting last week, Scott said a meeting took place Monday where faculty members were told some salaries would be reduced, and there would be staff furloughs.
“The rumors started flying,” Scott said. “The faculty’s split. Everybody’s now taking sides.”
Former board member Joe Petrock said that he was stepping down for being falsely blamed for the school’s financial woes, and specifically new dorms which could cost the school in excess of $300 million.
“I wasn’t the chairman when the housing project was presented and I wasn’t on the executive committee,” Petrock said. “I was just a member of the board. We weren’t given all the information.”
But previous statements from Petrock indicate the contrary. In a 2015 message to the Bethune-Cookman community, Petrock defended the dorm deal and detailed audits of the project.
During this period of progress, the university is experiencing exponential growth in various areas, which comes with the territory of success and development. As you may know, we are well underway with the construction of our state-of-the-art residence halls, scheduled for completion in 2016. This project will offer an additional 1,200 beds at a cost of $72M, which, as reported in a recent News-Journal article, represents a lower cost per dorm room than most universities completing similar projects. In addition, over the years, the university is slated to add nearly $240M to its bottom line with the new residence halls.
While this is a beneficial move for the university, we are aware of some concerns voiced by the community. During former Chairman Harrington’s term, the Board of Trustees approved the residence hall project by a 36-3 vote. Subsequently, the Board of Trustees received two letters from Trustee Johnny McCray requesting a forensic audit. While we have responded to the first letter, the second letter has been referred to the Board’s Committee on Legal Affairs for review. Under former Chairman Harrington, an audit of the residence hall project was conducted and no findings of inappropriate spending or transactions were found. In addition, the university is currently completing its annual audit and will report those findings to the Board of Trustees in October. President Jackson and I are confident that the results for the annual audit will be positive.
The letter was a response from Petrock, who was named BCU Board Chair in July 2015 and began serving on the board in 2004, to a letter from then-trustee Johnny McCray, who in September 2015 outlined concerns with the dormitory deal.
From the Florida Courier:
The “most vexing question,” according to McCray, is how a legally binding $5.6 million contract, as well as regular payments of millions of dollars, could get past the president, his staff, the school’s attorney, and the board at a school the size of B-CU.
“If such a substantial amount of funds was expended unbeknownst to the Board and the President, only the Good Lord knows what, if any, additional improprieties our current knowledge may portend,” he fumes.
“What is the true financial condition of the University in the wake of confirmed revelations of fiscal improprieties? If $5.6M is expended unbeknownst to the President, key administrators and staff members, the University’s General Counsel, and the Board’s finance committee, the University has a problem.”