ASU Paid Its Own Board Chair Over $12,000 for Conference Services

BY WATCHING ADAMS STAFF – 10/24/16

Adams State University (ASU) recently held a campus equity retreat on the property of Board of Trustees Chair Arnold Salazar and paid his private company $12,700 to do so. In a signed agreement between Salazar and ASU Vice President of Administration and Finance Kurt Cary, ASU agreed to pay for the use of Salazar’s Jack Farms Event Center (doing business as La Manzanilla Farm). View the Official Functions Request and Agreement here.

According to documents obtained by Watching Adams, Salazar’s location was used for a five day retreat in August 2016 called Unidos Equity Leadership Institute, holding sessions focusing on “Classism/Privilege, Racism, Gender, LGBTQAI,” and “Dealing with Educational Change and Taking It Back.”

Jack Farms provided the use of the space for about $2,035 per day plus a $500 charge for the use of 11 tables and 50 chairs. This also included the lodging of 2 guests, however all catering services were hired separately.  Since 2012, this is the first time ASU has paid for the use of Salazar’s property. Salazar was named a Trustee in 2010 and became Board Chair in 2013.

One ASU employee asked, “Salazar himself signed the contract? How is this ethical? The general handbook just specifically addressed conflicts of interest. How is this not? Was there nowhere else to hold this event?”

Another ASU employee responded, “Clearly, it’s a huge conflict of interest. Wasn’t it our president that recently said that we need to make better use of our own facilities?”

Stephen Mumme, Co-President of the Colorado Association of American University Professors (AAUP), reviewed these documents and said, “As a matter of practice, procuring paid service from board members is unethical unless there should be a highly compelling argument to the contrary. If the facility was the only such facility within a 30 mile radius perhaps it might be justified. But I see no reason to suppose this is should be the case in Alamosa.”

Many similar venues are available for retreats throughout the greater Alamosa area and in the southern Colorado region – including hotels with conference space as well as historic ranches and farms. Similar ASU retreats have previously been held in Del Norte and San Luis, Colorado and in Taos, New Mexico. In researching this story, Watching Adams obtained rough estimates of $900 to $1200 per day for the use of these venues as conference locations, about half the daily cost of Salazar’s Jack Farms Event Center.

An individual who has spent a career managing in the nonprofit sector remarked, “As a public servant for nearly 20 years, I find this business arrangement somewhat troubling. Boards of directors – or trustees in this case – are responsible for the effective fiduciary oversight of the public organizations for which they have been entrusted. Conducting private business with that public entity, while having responsibility for its financial oversight, provides fertile ground for all types of misdeeds. Public officials are entrusted to ensure the proper use of taxpayer dollars, not profit from them. One must wonder what other deals have enabled ASU Trustees to profit, all the while knowing the poor fiscal state of the institution.”

A former ASU employee stated, “What I find upsetting about this unethical transaction is that Chairman Salazar knows full well the ongoing fiscal problems of the institution and yet still stuck ASU with the bill. Why not donate these services, minus the stated $500 cost of providing the furnishings? It’s bad enough that a Board of Trustees member is profiting off the university they are entrusted to oversee. It’s even more disturbing that the Chairman of the Board is doing so even as the university is struggling to balance its budget.”

 

UPDATED 10/31/16: