Audit criticizes payments to UMB administrator

Payments, employee's contract were not disclosed properly, it says

February 19, 2010|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

A high-ranking administrator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore received $410,000 in "questionable compensation payments" between 2007 and 2009, according to a state audit released Thursday.

The payments, made in addition to the employee's salary, were not disclosed in budget reports to the General Assembly. The routine legislative audit also alleges that the university failed to submit the employee's contract for approval by the attorney general's office or for review by the university system's Board of Regents, as required by university guidelines.

The university and auditors declined to reveal the employee's identity or the specific school where he or she worked. UMB includes many of the state system's most prestigious graduate programs, including its medical and law schools.

During fiscal 2007, the employee received four payments totaling $350,000 for sabbatical time that was never taken. Those payments, approved by UMB President David J. Ramsay, came in addition to a $360,000 salary. The university's policies include no mention of payment for unused sabbatical, the audit says.

The university system's Board of Regents discussed the audit in closed session last Friday and asked Chancellor William E. Kirwan to investigate the situation.

"We're all deeply concerned by it," Kirwan said Thursday.

But he declined to answer specific questions about the audit, saying he would wait until after his "intensive but expeditious" investigation.

"Until we get the facts as we see them, we don't want to speculate about anything," he said, adding that his review would probably be largely complete by the time of a legislative hearing on the issue next Thursday.

Ramsay also issued a statement, saying, "The auditors raised a number of points that are receiving immediate attention. I take this audit very seriously and agree with many of the findings. Please be reassured that the leadership of UMB is working diligently to address every issue."

The House appropriations committee and Senate committee on budget and taxation will hold hearings on the audit Feb. 25 and March 1, respectively.

The audit raises questions about the university system's oversight, said state Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the joint audit committee. She added that she needs more information.

"But this is a pretty large amount of money," she said. "It's rather significant when you're talking about doubling someone's salary. The auditor is saying that there are systemic issues that might need to be addressed."

Bruce Myers, the state's director of legislative audits, said he was surprised by the amount of money given to the employee and by the absence of a policy supporting the payment.

"In that case, the amount far exceeds the range of the other bonuses they were giving," he said. "It was approved by the president, but that was about it."

Sabbaticals give professors time away from teaching to conduct research that will benefit the university and enhance their standing in the academic world. But under university guidelines, they're supposed to submit plans for their time away and deliver summary reports of their research activities within six weeks of returning to work. The employee in question did neither.

The employee also received $60,000 in payments for summer research that were approved by a subordinate instead of by a supervisor.

The university distributed $22.8 million in compensation beyond salaries in 2008 and did so without an established policy governing bonuses or payment for summer research, the audit says. The university could not document how bonus sums were determined in many cases, the audit says.

"What surprised me was not that they gave out bonuses, but that they had no policy to govern it," Myers said.

The university has since created a policy for summer payments and will create a policy on bonus payments by March 1, according to its response to the audit.

The audit also alleges that UMB failed to execute contracts with the University of Maryland Medical System Corp. in a timely manner and failed to draft a plan to eliminate $2.9 million in deficit balances across several university accounts.

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