ASU, board members blast Gov. Bentley's audit release, feel "bet - - The News for South Mississippi

ASU, board members blast Gov. Bentley's audit release, feel "betrayed"


Alabama State University and two Board of Trustees members named in a scathing preliminary audit that went public Monday have released statements.

In its statement, ASU blasted the Bentley administration for releasing the audit to the media before it had a chance to review it and said much of the findings are wrong.

Gov. Robert Bentley's Press Secretary Jennifer Ardis responded to the university's claim saying, "We have stated since the beginning of the audit that the findings would be made public."

"Governor Bentley felt it was important to share the Forensic Strategic Solutions information with the entire Board of Trustees so everyone could be updated on the process. The questions in the audit can still be reviewed and addressed, but the Governor chose to work directly with the governing body of Alabama State University to make sure the process continues to move forward," Ardis stated.

ASU officials released another statement late Monday night in response to the governor's office's statement.

"The issue is not that the information from the governor's office went public, it's that the governor went back on his word to ASU that he would share it with the university prior to his releasing it publicly. Moreover, this was a preliminary document not a final report. The news media should ask the governor why is the governor's office releasing preliminary information before it is finalized," ASU officials said in the statement.

ASU Board of Trustees chairman Elton Dean and board member Judge Marvin Wiggins also released statements Monday night.

Dean denied the allegations and said the governor "betrayed" them.

"I absolutely and categorically deny the baseless allegations made today about me. We worked with this Governor in good faith, and today he betrayed us and released a report that he knows is wrong," Dean said in the statement. "I can assure all those in the University family that we will not lie down and allow any Governor to take over ASU. We are being used and abused for political purposes by Gov. Bentley, and I resent it."

Wiggins said the governor was given information that disputes the findings of the report.

"Governor Bentley was provided on Friday with information related to me that clearly and concisely disputed the findings of his report. Instead of basing his actions on facts, he has arbitrarily decided to try to remove me from the board so that he can begin the process of controlling Alabama State University," Wiggins said in his statement. "Our University has gained everything we have through struggles and fights for decades, and if a fight is what Gov. Bentley wants, he will certainly get it."

The governor's office told WSFA 12 News in response to Wiggins' statement that no efforts have been made to remove any member from the board, but as for Dean and Wiggins, all options are on the table.

The full statement released by ASU attorney U.W. Clemon stated:

"ASU is deeply troubled by Governor Bentley's release this afternoon of a "Privileged and Confidential" document titled "Preliminary Update." The release of this document is unfair and is in violation of an express agreement reached with the Governor's Office two weeks ago that ASU would be allowed to review and respond to the forensic audit before it was released.

We have not had a reasonable opportunity to review and analyze the Preliminary Update, but what we have reviewed is incorrect. Several items are immediately obvious:

  1. Nowhere in the 36-page preliminary report is there any allegation, claim or finding that any ASU Trustee, administrator or staff member stole or otherwise misappropriated funds.

  2. The report alleges various "conflicts of interest" with respect to three Trustees. Nowhere in the report does it find that these Trustees sought or received a personal benefit from the contracts listed, nor does the report find that these Trustees caused the contracts involved to be executed between ASU and individuals/entities listed. In one case, the alleged conflict is based solely on rumors.

  3. The alleged "conflicts of interest" were declared by a firm that was handpicked by the Governor without a bid and was paid for by funds under his control.

  4. Much of the report questions ASU's accounting procedures and codes. All of ASU's accounting procedures during the five-year review period conformed to generally accepted accounting principles in the industry, as has been confirmed through regular, periodic audits.

  5. The firm's allegations of "obstruction" during the review process are based solely on the fact that ASU hired outside legal counsel to represent the University's interests during its investigation. The procedures for the exchange of information were necessary and were clearly explained to the firm. The University had a rational basis for the implementation of these procedures, which were designed to minimize the impact that the investigation process had on the day-to-day operations of ASU.

We are only now beginning to review the information but questions remain about the true motivation behind this investigation. I would urge that no one rush to judgment. Obviously, we will carefully review all of the information, work aggressively to separate fact from fiction, and then respond as quickly as possible."

Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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