For thirty-three years Dr. Anthony Tricoli provided outstanding leadership in higher education institutions in both California and Georgia. And for nearly one-third of that time, Dr. Tricoli served as a college president. Not one time in thirty-three years did any of the programs or institutions Dr. Tricoli led ever have any type of budget problem…..not once in 33 years. What you might also find interesting is this, even with all of the claims made by the USG about GPC’s budget issue, Georgia Perimeter College never once finished any year without funds. The college never once finished in the red, there was always money in the budget at the end of the year, even in 2012, the year that Dr. Tricoli’s contract was not renewed.
So what was the problem? In a nut shell, for dozens of years the USG had such a poor budget oversight review process in place that several college presidents fell from their offices. The last was Anthony Tricoli; and within thirty days of his removal, the newest USG Chancellor, Hank Huckaby directed a complete review and rewrite of the USG’s Budget Oversight Review Process. It seems the old USG budget review process was full of holes and it provided those above and below President Tricoli to do what they wanted with the college budget without him knowing about the shenanigans of the untrustworthy. They lied to him from above and below, and used the poorly managed USG budget review process to intentionally deceive and harm him.
Fortunately, a no-holds-barred State Legislator named Karla Drenner was able to see through all of this and called the USG on their poor practices which led to a complete rewrite of the USG’s budget review process. Unfortunately for Dr. Anthony Tricoli it was too late for him, as he suffered the ultimate career destroying experience of any USG college or university president before him. Because not only was he removed from the position for which he was so highly qualified, but his career suffered a moral wound which destroyed his reputation as a top college president in the nation. Thus, ending his career in higher education.
In an interview with the Collegian, GPC’s student paper, Karla Drenner started with this statement, “Clearly, the financial oversight processes and procedures which were in place at the System Office were inadequate.”
When asked about email communications about GPC’s budget between staff in the budget office at GPC and university system budget and finance officials Representative Drenner said, “Tricoli was specifically excluded from these communications.” “I am particularly concerned that the USG’s special audit report failed to communicate that ‘system level’ leaders had been involved in these e-mail discussions which excluded the president,” wrote Drenner, and she continued, “Again, I ask myself, if the president was receiving ‘incomplete’ and ‘inaccurate’ budget presentations from the second person in authority at the college and the top financial administrator with 40 years of experience, the CBO, why was the president removed? Only too recently the Board at the University of Virginia removed the President of the UVA. The president after the investigation was restored to her leadership position. Consider the recent events at Emory when upper level administrators purposefully misled the public for years regarding its successes. An investigation was done, and when it concluded that the Emory’s president did not know, the president was retained, and the individuals responsible not.”
Representive Drenner makes the following statement and asks a looming question. This is the same question that many of us have asked since Dr. Anthony Tricoli did not receive an extended contract in 2012:
“In the court of law the presumption of innocence is the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. It stands to reason that the prosecution or in this instance that the University System of Georgia has to collect and present compelling evidence to support the allegation of “fiscal mismanagement” that subsequently supported the termination of GPC’S President.” “But the larger question for me in this situation is how can someone be removed, not rehired, terminated or any of the above without first obtaining the facts??? Effective June 30th the GPC’s President’s contract was not renewed and the USG formal audit was not released until 11 weeks later on September 17th, 2012.”
Indeed, we must ask the same question, what was behind the removal of Dr. Anthony Tricoli? It certainly was not his performance as GPC’s President. In fact, some thought that he might be replacing Mike Adams as UGA’s new President as pointed out by Maureen Downey in a AJC news article at the time all of this was unfolding in May of 2012.
Several questions were asked of Representative Drenner by the college’s news reporter, I’ve attached several of those questions and part of the Representative’s responses:
1) Why do you believe Anthony Tricoli wasn’t at fault for the Georgia Perimeter College budget deficit?
Representative Drenner highlighted the USG’s own audit findings of 9/17/2014, “A significant inaccuracy regarding personal services was budgeting of fringe benefits. GPC understated the fringe benefits that corresponded with each employee on the payroll. This understatement has been estimated at $6.7 million. Understating fringe benefits allowed other budget areas to be overstated. When funds were spent against the overstated areas, deficit spending occurred. (page 14 of the Special Audit) Does this mean the college’s Office of Human Resources made mistakes in assigning employees to the appropriate departments? From what I understand, both the Human Resources Department reported to the same vice president as did the Budget Office. Thus, the problems regarding the budget are centralized in this one area under this one vice president (CBO). Presidents in all organizations are ultimately responsible for the organizations in which they have been charged to run but, presidents must rely upon their staff to provide them with accurate information, so the best decisions can be made in a timely fashion. On this point, the special audit reported the following: ‘It is clear from our review that GPC’s CBO did not provide GPC’s President with timely and reliable financial information for the President’s use in managing the institution. (page 3 of the USG’s Special Audit)’
Representative Drenner then pointed out, “The special audit report indicates the following about the role the college’s budget manager played in the college’s budget problems: “Meanwhile, the former budget director stated that he knew of no one who was looking at the overall budget. It seems apparent that he should have had the responsibility for doing so since his job description included responsibility for budget planning, development and monitoring in accordance with institutional and system requirements. (page 19-20 of the Special Audit)”
Representative Drenner says, “At this point, I also started to wonder about the USG involvement and learned that they meet annually with the college’s leadership teams to review the college’s budget actions of the previous year and discuss their future budget proposal. So, if they were meeting annually, how could the Chancellors office not know?? Well, either they knew or they should have known? If they did know then how come from 2010-2012 the System Office did not discuss the looming financial concerns with GPC and make adjustments back in 2010? I could find no evidence in the final report that there was a discussion from the Interim President and the current GPC President? Why?”
2) Do you have any evidence that the University System used Tricoli as a scapegoat?
Drenner replied, “The USG Chancellor shortly after the departure of the President of GPC, adopted changes to the processes and procedures within his office and other USG departments to strengthen budget oversight in the future, suggesting that perhaps GPC may not have experienced the financial crises which resulted. Clearly, the financial oversight processes and procedures which were in place at the System Office were inadequate. They were so insufficient that they prevented the USG from providing appropriate review and guidance of the budgets for the institutions in the System, including GPC.”
Representative Drenner was obviously shocked about the level of weakness of the USG’s procedures for budget oversight….she said, “They were so insufficient that they prevented the USG from providing appropriate review and guidance of the budgets for the institutions in the System, including GPC.”
On June 5, 2012 Hank Huckaby sent a letter to all USG presidents indicating the following, “Effective oversight of fiscal operations is a shared responsibility among our presidents, our chief business officers, and the University System Office.” “In an effort to strengthen our fiscal operations, the System Office will be implementing enhanced review of each institution’s financials. Accordingly, I am implementing the following procedures. These procedures will be formalized shortly; however, please implement these at your respective institutions as follows: 1) Budget Hearings; 2) Quarterly Financial Reports; 3) External Audits; 4) Use of Reserves; and 5) Institution Visits.”
Now, we agree with Huckaby, the fiscal operations management of the USG over the Colleges and Universities in the USG was woefully lacking and needed wholesale change. However, this admission of weakness clearly communicates the culpability of the USG in allowing GPC and USG to use this poor budget oversight process against the former GPC President as was clearly done to him?
3) If Tricoli wasn’t at fault, do you know of any specific person(s) that was in a position to prevent the budget deficit?
Drenner responded, “The special audit acknowledges the following: “We also noted the existence of email discussions among staff within GPC’s Office of Financial and Administrative Affairs starting in January 2012 that reference declines in auxiliary fund balances and the use of auxiliary reserves for non-auxiliary expenditures over the past several fiscal years. There was no evidence that these emails were shared outside of the Office of Financial and Administrative Affairs until several months afterwards.” (page 1 of the Special Audit) While this information is disturbing, I am particularly concerned that the USG’s special audit report failed to communicate that ‘system level’ leaders had been involved in these e-mail discussions which excluded the college president.”
Wow! USG officials were involved in budget discussions with GPC budget officials but didn’t share any of the details of these discussions with the college president! Why not?
4) Do you have any other knowledge regarding Georgia Perimeter College’s budget deficit or the removal of Tricoli? (Beyond what has already been published in the press or the special audit review)
During my tenure in the Georgia State Legislature thousands of my constituents have been and/or are currently connected to GPC, and there’s an overall dissatisfaction with what has happened at the college as a result of the Chancellor’s and BOR’s decisions. We all have the same question: how can a president with a long series of successes be abruptly dismissed before any investigation?
Dr. Anthony Tricoli was a highly decorated college president locally, national and internationally. Should he not have at least, been given the opportunity to have hearing before the BOR. He asked twice for that hearing and was denied twice…..with no reason.
5) What do you think are the necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen to another University System school?
Drenner responded in part, “I want to share one last point made by those who conducted and prepared the special audit report: ‘GPC’s former fiscal leadership team relied on inaccurate, internally generated spreadsheets that did not correspond to the General Ledger. Specifically, it appears that members of GPC’s cabinet, to include the former President, and both the President’s Council and the Strategic Budget Committee, were provided incomplete and inaccurate budget presentations made by the CBO and the Budget Director at various group meetings.”(page 6 of the Special Report)
Drenner continued, “Again, I ask myself, if the president was receiving “incomplete” and “inaccurate” budget presentations from the second person in authority at the college and the top financial administrator with 40 years of experience, the CBO, why was the president removed?”
Drenner shared, “Only too recently the Board at the University of Virginia removed the President of the UVA. The president after the investigation was restored to her leadership position. Consider the recent events at Emory when upper level administrators purposefully misled the public for years regarding its successes. An investigation was done, and when it concluded that the Emory’s president did not know, the president was retained, and the individuals responsible [was] not. I understand how difficult it can be for a decision to be reversed. As is evidenced by the internal findings of the USG’s Special Audit and the implementation of an extensive new budget review process by the USG suggests thoughtful reconsideration.”
What is clear to those of reading the excerpts of the interview conducted by the Editor of the Collegian Newspaper of Representative Drenner is that she took the time to understand the situation before she communicated her thoughts. Drenner’s findings and communication as well as Chancellor Huckaby’s actions to implement a completey revised Budget Oversight Process for the USG clearly tell us the USG was culpable in the creation of an environment which enable bad people to do bad things and get away with it.
So, I guess the question we must now ask is this: What did the BOR do with this information? The sad answer is…..nothing….absolutely nothing. They ignored Dr. Tricoli’s pleas for a hearing. The Attorney General refused to conduct their own investigation. The BOR knows that State Legislators understand that Dr. Tricoli was the USG’s scapegoat, that he was their fall guy, and that the USG’s own weak budget oversight procedures enabled USG and GPC staff members to conspire and act corruptly and illegally against Dr. Tricoli, and to end his career in the USG, and to completely destroy this talented man’s future in higher education.
Please stand up and be heard, let the BOR and your elected officials hear your voice and your votes. Corruption in higher education and within our Board of Regents cannot continue to be the standard by which we allow our State to operate.