[ OUR OPINION ]
Keep Dobelle’s personal
and business costs separate
A DUST-UP between University of Hawaii regents and Evan Dobelle about how the UH president spends and accounts for money from an associate foundation adds another abrasion to the friction among the parties.
Mingling of charges on Evan Dobelle's personal credit card has raised questions about payments from a discretionary fund the UH Foundation provides for him.
Of more concern, the dispute raises questions regarding the UH Foundation's financial management, which could affect the integrity of its fund-raising efforts. It also hints at Dobelle's tendency to slight procedures for keeping the books straight.
The amount of money involved isn't of major consequence. However, the accounting of payments and reimbursements from the $200,000 protocol fund the foundation supplies to Dobelle appears too loose. The foundation and Dobelle ought to improve their fiscal reckoning.
Regents this week quizzed Bill King, the foundation's chief financial officer, about a scramble of payments and repayments of expenses billed on Dobelle's personal credit card. The foundation, a private corporation whose goal is to raise and steer funds to benefit the university, had been paying the bills without separating the president's business and personal expenses to avoid late payment charges, the Star-Bulletin's Craig Gima reported.
Sam Callejo, the president's aide, said the foundation began paying the entire bill because reimbursing Dobelle for legitimate business expenses often took a long time. But Dobelle's reimbursing the foundation also took a long time. In one instance, his return of about $14,380 lagged for several months and in another almost a year.
The foundation's King acknowledges that if regular employees owed money for personal expenses, they would be expected to make repayments "immediately." A UH professor noted that employees are told to keep private and business spending strictly separated.
Dobelle and the foundation should adopt this practice. The foundation would lessen its accounting headaches by obtaining a credit card for him to charge business costs. Meanwhile, Dobelle can keep his personal card parked in his wallet. Why this simple solution should elude this group is mind-boggling.
The president, who makes $422,000 a year, has unrestricted control of the money, but it is not a personal fund and must be used for university purposes. He has spent funds for such things as first-class travel upgrades and events at his university-provided College Hill residence, none of which appears inappropriate, King said.
Dobelle's use of the protocol fund raised eyebrows two years ago when he paid $1,625 for concert tickets as a treat for staff and donors. In that same year, when the fund totaled only $150,000, he spent $268,000, some of which apparently went to renovations at College Hill.
Regents, who have had previous conflicts with Dobelle, have authorized an audit of the fund as part of Dobelle's performance evaluation, but how closely they can look at the books remains uncertain since the foundation claims privacy.
Nonetheless, it would be in the foundation's interest to clear up this matter. It depends on the good will and trust of donors to raise money and even though the protocol fund is financed largely by interest on investments, the base funding is derived from contributions.