Frostburg chief grilled by lawmakers

November 21, 1990|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Under intense grilling by state lawmakers, Frostburg State University President Herb F. Reinhard Jr. conceded for the first time yesterday that he used poor judgment when he took a $10,000 gift intended for scholarships and put it into his discretionary account.

But the embattled president insisted that he has appropriately used an account in the foundation to promote the university -- including, he said, when he spent $244.99 to have cruise control installed in his car.

The use of the scholarship gift drew near-unanimous criticism from lawmakers examining whether legislative review is needed for private, non-profit foundations affiliated with public universities.

The scholarship incident and subsequent revelations of political contributions from Frostburg and other universities also has put the university system's credibility on the line before lawmakers holding the strings to a purse that has grown significantly in the past two years.

But while several members of the Joint Budget and Audit Committee called for opening foundation books to the public, others, including a co-chairman, Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, and Sen. Francis X. Kelly, D-Baltimore County, said better auditors and lawyers may be the solution to ensuring accountability.

Dr. Reinhard may have shown "a "pattern of bad judgment," but that is not reason enough to open foundation books to state auditors, Mr. Kelly said. He said the university's regents need to know how money from campus foundations is spent.

Private foundations are audited regularly, but legislative auditors say that may not be enough. They are seeking authority to examine the propriety of spending by the university fund-raising arms, saying the money is collected in the university's name from donors who often do not distinguish between giving to the university and giving to a private foundation.

The issue took on steam in recent weeks when several campuses of the University of Maryland System admitted to making political contributions using money from the tax-exempt foundations.

Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg, responding to questions from Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, the other co-chairman, apologized for his predecessor's "unequivocal" denial in June that university presidents used foundation money to make political contributions. "I do not believe that any willful deception took place," he said.

The chancellor also said several measures, including detailed audits of presidential discretionary accounts, would address lawmakers' concerns about foundation spending.

To the claims of university presidents and a lawyer for the University of Maryland Foundation Inc. that tickets to events hosted by politicians might not be political contributions, lawmakers responded skeptically.

"Your defense is stonewalling of the worst kind," said Mr. Lapides, a proponent of legislative oversight of foundations.

He said his goal was to make them stronger. "I don't want to destroy foundations. I just want them subject to review," Mr. Lapides said.

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