Mike Franco for State Senate 2014! Message Board › Dobelle "Self-Report" Whistleblower?
I long for the days it was known as Westfield State College.
Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle eyes whistleblower protection in controversy over travel expenses
Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle, is seen during an interview at the offices of The Republican. (Greg Saulmon / The Republican)
By Jack Flynn, The Republican
September 24, 2013 at 11:00 PM
WESTFIELD – Westfield State University President Evan S. Dobelle is considering seeking whistleblower protection as he prepares for a showdown with the Board of Trustees next month.
Amid mounting criticism of his travel expenses, Dobelle has repeatedly said he “self-reported” billing the university for dozens of airline, hotel and restaurant bills for himself and his family.
Dobelle has retained a lawyer and is exploring using the state Whistleblower Act to shield him from possible punishment by school trustees or state investigators, two sources confirmed Thursday.
State education officials have urged the board to consider disciplining Dobelle and other university officials for violating travel and credit card policies. The board’s next meeting is Oct. 24.
Dobelle’s spokesperson, Molly C. Watson, said she was unaware of any legal strategy being considered by Dobelle, and board chairman John F. Flynn III declined to comment.
During a meeting last week with The Republican’s editorial board, Dobelle explained that he had three credit cards, and never intentionally billed personal trips to Miami Beach, London, Vienna and other cities to the university.
After his errors were pointed out by Westfield State vice president of administration and finance Gerald W. Hayes, Dobelle said he effectively blew the whistle on himself by notifying the board of trustees.
“I self-reported,” Dobelle said, adding that this action has been overlooked in the travel controversy.
The state whistleblower act protects public employees from retaliation for reporting fraud, waste or abuse to the Inspector General’s Office or other agencies.
In a report made public last week, the university’s auditors found Dobelle and top university officials violated travel and credit-card policies on trips to London, Vienna, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Miami Beach and other national and international destinations.
Expenses from trips to China, Thailand, Vietnam, Spain and other countries were also billed without proper documentation to the Westfield State Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm, according to the firm.
No allegations of theft or fraud were made regarding the expenditures, but the auditors said record-keeping was so poor that distinguishing between personal and university-related expenses was sometimes impossible.
The university president said the spending paid off in increased donations, a distinguished speaker series, new undergraduate majors, expansion of the international exchange program and construction on campus.
Dobelle, 68, former Pittsfield mayor and president of Trinity College and the University of Hawaii, said he reimbursed the university for all his personal expenses.
Still, state education officials took a dim view of Dobelle’s spending during a closed-door meeting with the president in Boston last week.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Richard M. Freehand accused Dobelle of violating state ethics laws and undermining public confidence in higher education.
Also last week, the state Inspector General’s Office called on the trustees to exercise stricter oversight over Dobelle’s future travel and scrutinize the “return on investment” on trips he and others have taken since 2008.
In a letter to the trustees, Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha said Dobelle ran up excessive bills on university credit cards and spent funds from the Westfield State Foundation Inc. “indiscriminately and with little or no regard for the mission or financial viability of the foundation.”
Edited by Mike Franco on Sep 25, 2013 10:06 AM