Thursday, August 5, 2004

Audit reveals
Dobelle’s questionable
expense claims

The review points out problems
in managing funds and keeping
proper documentation

Evan Dobelle submitted claims for thousands of dollars in questionable or unsubstantiated business expenses, including $4,109 so that his wife could attend a Massachusetts conference that doubled as a reunion for her alma mater, according to an audit released yesterday.

The audit, which was said to be a key factor in the University of Hawaii Board of Regents' June 15 decision to fire Dobelle from his $442,000-a-year post as UH president, points out problems in the management of his $200,000-a-year UH Foundation protocol fund and the inadequate documentation he provided for payment reimbursements. The protocol fund is available for spending that the president feels will advance the university.

Dobelle has said the bookkeeping for the protocol fund was "messy" but that he and his staff had worked to reconcile any problems. His lawyer reiterated that view yesterday.

"While Dr. Dobelle was the president, there were three different ways of keeping track of the moneys, and there was some confusion," said attorney Rick Fried. "Maybe, accounting-wise, it wasn't as pristine as it should have been, but it's all been worked out and everybody's back to even."

The Deloitte & Touche audit found that $71,664 in claims were submitted to the foundation without supporting documentation, $38,174 in air fare upgrades were claimed for individuals other than the president, and payments of $26,000 were made by the foundation to reimburse Dobelle for expenses that were originally considered business but later reclassified as personal. Dobelle has since reimbursed the foundation for those expenses.

Despite the audit's findings, Fried said there were no "smoking guns" in the report to explain why the regents fired Dobelle "for cause."

"Everything has been gone through extensively in the mediation, and I think after cooler heads prevailed, that's why we came up with the document that we arrived at because they realized that there were good explanations for all the items," Fried said.

The two sides agreed to a settlement last month in which the regents rescinded the firing and Dobelle will receive $1.05 million and be allowed to resign Aug. 14. Regents originally fired Dobelle "for cause," making him ineligible to receive a $2.26 million severance package.

UH Associate General Counsel Presley Pang declined to shed any light on how the regents arrived at their initial "for cause" decision.

"I'm releasing the documents and you can draw your conclusions," he said yesterday.

One of the questionable business expense claims highlighted in the audit was for $4,109 so Dobelle's wife, Kit, could attend a three-day conference at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in October 2001 that also doubled as an alumni reunion. The couple met at the university.

The event was entitled "A Marathon Conference: Today's Leaders Shaping Tomorrow's Future." One purpose of the event was to reunite alumni and honor those most affected by Dwight Allen, former dean of the School of Education.

For her trip to Massachusetts, Kit Dobelle was classified as a representative of the president. But the appointment agreement between Dobelle and the regents did not allow reimbursement for a spouse traveling alone on university business, according to the audit. Had Dobelle attended with his wife, any expenses incurred by his wife would have been the responsibility of the university, the audit states.

The audit suggests ways to improve the bookkeeping and management for the fund.

University of Hawaii
UH Foundation



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