Friday, February 22, 2019

Document dump reveals former UCF President Dale Whittaker was aware of misspent funds

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 6:43 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
A trove of documents released by the Florida House of Public Integrity and Ethics Committee earlier today reveal former UCF President Dale Whittaker was more aware of the university's misspending than previously known.

University officials accepted Whittaker's resignation on Thursday.

In January, once it was discovered that $38 million in operating funds were used to cover construction costs to build Trevor Colbourn Hall, Whittaker announced he would fire four high-ranking university employees. Whittaker has maintained that he had no knowledge of the improper spending.

The documents, however, reveal testimony by current and former UCF employees who say they didn't understand the implications of using $38 million in operating funds to cover construction costs to build Trevor Colbourn Hall. Many of them said they've been thrown under the bus, so to speak, to help protect Whittaker, who was appointed UCF president last year, following longtime UCF President John Hitt's retirement.



Included in the documents is testimony from Lynn Gonzalez, associate vice president for budget and personnel administration. Gonzalez said during the misspending period she participated in weekly "budget chats" with Whittaker, CFO Bill Merck, Tracy Clark and Christy Tant, where they discussed projects that would receive operating funds. She said it was Whittaker, then the university provost, who gave the final OK. Gonzalez also said Whittaker signed off on all expenditures more than $1 million.

Lee Kernek, associate vice president for facilities and safety, testified that Whittaker eventually took over UCF's annual budget. She said Whittaker was provided a list of projects that were funded using leftover operating dollars. Kernek, who's one of the four on the chopping block, said this was at least a monthly occurrence.

Clark, associate provost for budget, planning and administration, testified that Whittaker had reason to doubt the use of funding for Colbourn Hall. Clark is also among the four UCF administrators at risk of being fired.

Merck and Kernek both told the committee that they suspect they were scapegoated so that Whittaker might have avoided more scrutiny.

Merck resigned in September after the scandal broke. At the time, Whittaker claimed he took "full and immediate responsibility" for the misappropriation of funds. However, Merck testified to the committee that he never meant to take responsibility "for the general counsel, for the president, for the provost, for the board, for the [Board of Governor's], all of those."

Merck claimed he didn't think the staff did anything illegal at the time.

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