By Nick Tardive and Gianna Vigliatura
MCLA, as well as seven other colleges in the Commonwealth, were targeted for “inadequate” controls over its inventory, furniture and equipment. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA) official report released in last August, Every item worth $1000 is required to be tagged by the colleges and be properly inventoried.
Lawrence Behan, vice president of Administration and Finance, claimed the policy was somewhat outdated in its practice. One thousand dollars in 2017 doesn’t go as far as it once did, to which Behan said he and a group of Chief Financial Officers from other state universities in Massachusetts were working toward getting the OSA to raise the minimum price for tagged items.
Behan spoke to The Beacon about issues outlined in the OSA official report, as well as his plans to present new policy drafts to the Board of Trustees meant to correct the problems.
“We’re not more unusual than any other place in the Commonwealth,” Behan said.
Behan also said that depreciated items were included on that list, so long as they cost $1000 when initially purchased, and that the College had to get prior approval from the OSA if they wanted to dispose of any tagged items.
“If an asset has no value, why does it need to be in the inventory?” he asked.
What MCLA did not share with the rest of the colleges targeted by the audit, however, were property thefts left unreported to the OSA as mandated, inaccuracies on the College’s internal control questionnaire, and $11,000 in travel expenses not properly pre-approved by the OSA.
Instead, the problem was a matter of MCLA’s conflicting policies regarding procurement card usage and the approval for that usage.
From the official report, the conflicted policies stated that all College related travel must be approved by the division head prior to travel, but the use of a procurement card is allowed for travel expenses, and the receipts for those are only reviewed once a month.
“I think it was an oversight,” he said. “When these policies were written there was a difference in the way procurement cards were used.”
In the two years from the start of the audit and its conclusion, the OSA found that 16 expenditures totaling $11,000 (out of 810 worth $544,724) were not properly documented on a pre-approved travel voucher.
In regards to the lack of pre-approved travel expenses, Behan wanted to assure people that MCLA was “not violating any” state finance laws. He made the distinction due to the former President of Westfield State University (also a target of the official audit report), Evan Dobelle, who was accused of spending school funds on “international travel, limousines, fancy hotels and expensive meals,” according to “The Boston Globe.”
Dobelle ended up paying $185,000 in a lawsuit settlement that ended two years of investigation and litigation. Dobelle was also accused of improperly spending college money when he was President of the University of Hawaii and was with the New England Board of Higher Education.
“The auditors are basically saying, ‘you said you were going to do this, but you haven’t,'” Behan said. “They’re measuring us against what we say we’re going to do.”
Behan said it was good to have an outside agency getting MCLA to follow through with its own policies.
While Behan claimed to have drafts meant to update the policies outlined as problematic on the OSA, he also attributed many of the oversights with regards to these outdated policies to a prolonged transition MCLA saw after the departure of President Mary Grant and James Stakenas, the former vice president of Administration and Finance.
Behan did not begin working at MCLA until after the audit had been finished, however, he hopes to have the new policies implemented by the end of this fiscal year.