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News Clips 02/22/2013
State audit lists FAMU shortcomings
Source: Tallahassee Democrat, 02/22/13
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Officials at Florida A&M University said they already have been working on most of the 24 findings detailed in a sweeping state Auditor General’s operational audit released Thursday.
The 51-page report, which covered the period from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 and includes responses from the university, found issues on many fronts at FAMU, including a severance package for former President James H. Ammons that is in violation of state law.
The audit also took issue with a plan for addressing an ongoing deficit in the athletic department that failed to show how FAMU would operate in the black. The operational audit also found that FAMU needed to do a better job of determining if students are Florida residents for tuition purposes.
“We’re going to work through all of the issues in the audit, but we’ve already found fixes for many of them,” FAMU interim President Larry Robinson said.
University administrators had received a draft of the Auditor General’s report last year, Robinson said, and had been working on their responses.
The operational audit comes at a critical time for the university, which was informed in December that it was being placed on probation for one year by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.
FAMU is also dealing with an investigation by the Board of Governors which detailed a lack of institutional controls at the university, particularly relating to hazing in the five years prior to drum major Robert Champion’s death in November 2011.
“We need to be on top of our finances and show that we can run our university,” Robinson said. “We don’t want any findings anywhere.”
The severance package for Ammons, who resigned in July 2012, called for one year’s severance while the maximum allowed by statute is 20 weeks. In its response, FAMU said attorney Avery McKnight is drafting a new template for future contracts to comply with state law. Ammons is on sabbatical and is expected to return to FAMU as a member of the faculty this fall.
“It’s something that should not have happened but it’s in (Ammons’) contract. It’s a violation and we need to address that,” Rick Givens, FAMU vice president for the Office of Audit and Compliance, said.
Givens, who previously worked in the state auditor’s office, acknowledged that the 24 findings are unusually high for a university’s operational audit.
“It’s more findings than what would be considered average. They’re all important, but some are a much higher priority than others,” Givens said.
Any findings related to payroll and timely payments is a top concern, he said.
The Auditor General’s report said in its summary that FAMU needed to improve controls related to payroll processing. It also said the university needs to improve controls over its purchasing card program.
Robinson said this is an example of an issue the university already has addressed, and it has held training seminars for all employees who use purchasing cards.
Six of the Auditor General’s findings deal with construction administration. FAMU trustees last year voided a contract with a local construction company for an 800-bed residence hall where work was under way after a dispute over costs. The residence hall, which had been in the planning stages for four years, is scheduled to be open by August 2014, a full year behind the original date.
Some of the findings focus on the university’s Board of Trustees. For example, the Auditor General’s report said the board needs to enhance its written policies and procedures relating to electronic-funds transfers.
It also said the trustees need to do a better job of complying with Sunshine Laws by providing timely public notices for board and committee meetings.
Solomon Badger, chairman of FAMU’s board, said he had not had a chance to carefully review the report.
“Twenty-four findings, in my opinion, is more than I would have expected,” Badger said. “If they are there, they are there. We will have to address them in a timely fashion.”