BY WATCHING ADAMS STAFF – 11/21/16
In response to Watching Adams publishing ASU Paid Its Own Board Chair Over $12,000 for Conference Services, Adams State University (ASU) President Beverlee McClure issued a memo on October 24th to the Board of Trustees defending the university’s decision to use the property of Board Chair Arnold Salazar for university functions and to pay for these services using the university’s Title V grant funding. In her statement, McClure asserts:
“The University has used the event center on several occasions… Arnold and Marguerite Salazar have graciously donated the space for our use. On two occasions, grant-funded programs used the space. Both times, the Salazars graciously discounted the rate. In fact, for one event, a wedding needed to be moved from the Event Center and the Salazars paid $1,400 out of their own pocket to accommodate the University event.”
McClure also included a spreadsheet of events held at the Salazar ranch, known as the Jack Farm LLC (doing business as Manzanilla Barn). The costs shown include the $12,700 usage fee for the 2016 Unidos Equity Institute as previously reported, as well as an additional $6,476 paid for two catered events at the Salazar property.
These events, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) Annual Retreat and Pathways Retreat, had an estimated $58.63 and $80.82 per person dinner cost, respectively. These meals were catered by Sodexo, the university’s contracted food service provider.
Though McClure mentions that the Salazars have donated the property on several occasions, no in-kind contributions were shown on the spreadsheet that she distributed with her memo.
McClure concludes by referencing Watching Adams as “our distractors.”
“While our distractors continue to try and find fault with the leadership of the University, I assure you that we are transparent and accountable in all of our actions. In fact, I would say that the current leadership has far exceeded the transparency normally expected in business transactions.”
None of these disclosures had occurred until these documents were obtained through an open records request by Watching Adams publisher Danny Ledonne.
According to the ASU Purchasing Manual, under Code of Ethics (pg. 7), university employees are directed to:
“Refrain from any private or professional activity that would create a conflict between personal interests and the interests of Adams State University. Purchasing professionals have the right to engage in activities which are of a private nature and outside their employment. However, purchasing professionals must not use their positions in any way to induce another person to provide any benefit to themselves or persons with whom they have family, business, personal or financial ties. The following are recommended guidelines in dealing with conflicts of interest: Refrain from any private or business relationships or activities, which could result in a conflict of interest or could reasonably be perceived as a conflict of interest. [emphasis added] Refrain from engaging in business with, or employment by a company, which is a supplier to the University.”
Since the publication of the original report on potential ethical violations, many commentators have come forward to share their thoughts and react to McClure’s attempt to justify paying the university’s own board chair for services.
One ASU employee replied by stating, “Referring back to the ASU purchasing policy, it doesn’t say conflicts of interest are OK just so long as the good or service being purchased is unique and one of a kind. Because in reality, meeting spaces are not non-existent in Alamosa, the San Luis Valley, or surrounding areas, and so the service could have been obtained without breaching financial ethics and integrity. To say that the university operates with transparency is delusional at best, especially when this ‘full disclosure’ came about as a completely reactive response to a Watching Adams inquiry. Adams seems to act only when being pushed to do so; kicking, screaming, and blaming its ‘distractors’ for uncovering the truth behind its malpractice.”
Another ASU employee reacted to McClure’s memo by stating, “It completely ignores the policy regarding doing business with trustees. It doesn’t address nepotism. It doesn’t address how the institution tried to at least avoid a conflict of interest. Why weren’t other venues sought? Were they sought? This vague “explanation” leaves one with more questions than answers.”
Stephen Mumme, Co-President of the Colorado Association of American University Professors (AAUP) responded to the memo with, “The resort to expediency is at best a weak and strained defense. Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is the president’s responsibility and ought to be her highest priority.”
Another employee asked, “What is so ‘unique’ and ‘one-of-a-kind’ about Arnold’s party barn that it warrants entering into obvious conflict-of-interest territory? Why not just use the Grizzly Inn if you feel you must go off-campus, as so many other members of our community do? The Grizzly Inn is also unique and one-of-a-kind, in its own way. And a heck of a lot cheaper.”
A former ASU employee stated, “I’m not sure why McClure thought it relevant to share that a wedding got the boot in favor of an ASU event. This has absolutely nothing to do with transparency and accountability. If anything, it sends a word of caution to anyone considering renting the space – ASU’s wants and needs take precedence over major community celebrations. Consider yourself warned.”
Lastly, upon reviewing the per-person costs paid for Sodexo’s catering at these events held at the Salazar Ranch, an Alamosa event coordinator said, “for the San Luis Valley, those costs seems excessive, especially as a group rate for the Pathways Retreat. Just like paying over $2,000 per day for use of the Salazar property, paying $60 to $80 per meal is not a competitive rate and suggests that ASU is simply attempting to burn through Title V grant funds before they expire. It is irresponsible and runs counter to the general sentiment on campus that spending must be controlled given the university’s negative financial performance five years running.”
One Watching Adams comment identified the nepotism inherent to the Title V grant being managed by Lillian Gomez, the sister of Board Chair Salazar. They wrote:
October 25, 2016 at 3:35pm I just don't know why anyone would be the least suspicious about having the retreat at Arnold's place for a mere 2k a day. After all Arnold is Lillian's brother, might as well keep this shit in the family. Hell, I have a barn, kitties, dogs, horses and I'd even turn the garden hose on so there is plenty to drink. I'd do all that for a cool 1k a day and save Adams a bunch of money.
“One set of financial ethics for administrators and trustees, another set for faculty and staff” one observer concluded.
A recent Watching Adams Poll found that about 87% of respondents believe that Board Chair Salazar “possibly” or “definitely” behaved unethically by profiting off the Unidos Retreat.