No 2: UAPB audit, resignation of Chancellor Davis among year’s top stories

Editor’s note: The high-profile audit of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the resignation of Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr. is the No. 2 story on The Commercial’s Top 10 list for 2012.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff operated under a cloud for six months in 2012 in the wake of an internal audit released Feb. 22 by the University of Arkansas System questioning expenditures and other issues at the UAPB Harrold Dorm Complex.

System officials fired four UAPB employees in connection with the audit’s findings. The internal audit was unable to verify payroll expenses totaling $497,532 and vendor disbursements totaling $297,348 related to the Harrold Complex, the officials contended

Fired were Rita Ticey, an assistant to then-Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr. and director of the Harrold Dorm Complex; her daughter, Desiree C. Ticey, administrative specialist in the Department of Public Safety; Rita’s husband, Rickey Ticey, security officer and maintenance employee; and Eugene Butler, director of public safety.

The audit report noted Rita Ticey frequently signed financial and hiring documents on behalf of the chancellor and questioned her approval of time sheets for family members, citing Arkansas statute 25-16-1001, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustee’s Policy 410.1 and UAPB’s own guidelines that restrict employment relationships with relatives.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter requested an Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division open an investigation into the audit. Hunter said he sought the state police investigation to determine if public funds had been misappropriated, wasted or abused and if so, whether any crimes had been committed.

Hunter said in a news release that the internal audit raised questions about the renovation project at the Harrold Complex because the expenditures for it were not processed through the university’s existing purchasing and accounts payable departments.

Hunter said that Davis named Rita Ticey in charge of the renovation project and directed Ticey to utilize funds held in the UAPB Title III Endowment Agency Account for the project.

“Ms. Ticey would simply request supplies from vendors or services from contractors as she determined appropriate for the project and then request payment through the Title III account without going through the normal spending process,” Hunter said in a press release. “Chancellor Davis believed that the Title III account could be used in this way because the only restriction on the money was that it be used for educational purposes. However, the audit could not verify that the Title III account money was properly spent due to a lack of documentation used by this method of spending.”

Davis said UAPB supporters made donations to match the Title III grant over many years and the federal body administering Title III funds had indicated that UAPB had discretionary power over the funds.

Hunter said that the State Police investigation focused on payments to vendors and service providers made through the Title III account for the Harrold Complex and payments to students working at the complex.

“The audit raised concern because the normal spending process was not used with the Title III Account,” Hunter said at the time. “This issue was problematic in the investigation as well but investigators were able to verify that vendors and service providers did supply the requested items or service and they were paid pursuant to their agreements with Ms. Ticey. The investigation revealed numerous suspicious time sheets of students working at the Harrold Complex and a lack of supervision and management of said students, but nothing to justify criminal charges.”

Hunter said that the investigation also addressed reimbursement payments directly to Rita Ticey through the Title III account that were not supported by proper documentation.

Hunter said he had received the ASP investigation files and determined no criminal charges would be filed against current or former UAPB staff members as a result of the internal audit.

“This vindicated what I said from the beginning, which is that we did nothing wrong,” Davis said. He had maintained from the time the audit was made public that the questions involved correcting major problems confronting “students living in those horrible conditions at the Harrold Dorm Complex.

Davis said he authorized improvements in the complex after learning of mildew, spiders, dead vermin and safety issues that included exposed wiring in student rooms and raw sewage entering showers in the dorm rooms.

Davis said the conditions constituted a dire emergency and allowed him to override normal purchasing policy guidelines.

He acknowledged that not all university procedures were followed, but noted “we were dealing with an emergency situation in that dorm (Harrold Complex).

“We had six weeks to address those problems,” Davis said. “We just had to spend the money to take care of that situation.”

Davis on March 22 formally announced his resignation as chancellor, effective May 25. He was appointed chancellor in November 1991.

His father the late Dr. Lawrence A. Davis Sr., served as president of Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College, for 29 years and became the first chancellor of the newly merged UAPB in 1972. He resigned in the summer of 1973.

Davis Jr. and his wife have moved out of the chancellor’s home. She is undergoing treatment for cancer and he said he now cooks three meals a day at their new home, noting he is putting to use skills as a short-order cook learned when he was much younger.

UAPB alumni have questioned the way Davis and others at the Pine Bluff university were treated in the wake of recent issues that surfaced recently on the system’s Fayetteville campus.

University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart acknowledged the Division of University Advancement ended its fiscal year June 30 with a $3.1 million shortfall and that the division’s head, Vice Chancellor Brad Choate, and budget director, Joy Sharp, had been reassigned to positions outside the division and will no longer work for the university when their contracts expire in June.

Gearhart said no malfeasance was discovered.

UAPB’s student enrollment fell 11.3 percent to 2,828 in the fall semester.

Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson said that part of the problem a shortfall in financial aid. Others have speculated that lower enrollment may have stemmed from the system audit of the Harrold Dorm Complex and state police investigation.

There has been good news on the UAPB campus during 2012:

• A Ph.D. program in aquaculture and fisheries was approved, opening new opportunities for UAPB.

• The UAPB Golden Lions football team reached new heights in December.

• The Golden Lions erased a 14-0 deficit to defeat Jackson State 24-21 in overtime in the Dec. 8 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game in Birmingham, Ala. UAPB, which finished the season 10-2, secured an outright conference championship for the first time in its history and the school’s second title overall, following the 1966 SWAC co-championship shared by three other teams.

• The University of Arkansas System has launched the task of conducting a national search for UAPB’s next chancellor of the second-oldest public university and the only public historically black institution in Arkansas.