WSU trustees approve $900k transfer

WESTFIELD. Mass. (The Westfield News) – Monday night, Westfield State University trustees approved transferring $900,000 in reserve funds to pay legal bills resulting from two state investigations into spending by former president Evan S. Dobelle.
That tab, which Interim Vice President Dr. Kimberly Tobin referred to as “unexpected”, was initially as high as $1,124,000 through December, but, following the payment of a September bill of around $200,000, the school now owes the Boston-based law firm Fish and Richardson just over $900,000.
Following a discussion on the amount of work the firm has put in since their retention by the board, including scouring over “130,000 certified documents” and “tens of thousands of emails” according to University President Dr. Elizabeth Preston, the Trustees approved motions to transfer $900,000 and subsequently pay the bills, both motions of which passed unanimously, 6-0. Four trustees did not attend last night’s meeting.
“The university has been able to bridge some of the expense through its contingency funds and reductions in its administrative budgets,” said Tobin prior to the motion passing. “We have done our best to absorb as much as we can within our current budget. We obviously will continue to try and find additional monies without impacting our students or quality of education we provide.”
Tobin said that the university’s administration has been able to come up with an additional $200,000 to cover costs, and that she hopes the school can replenish some of it’s reserves.
“We’re trying to be as financially conservative as we possibly can,” she said, adding that the school has $24 million sitting in it’s reserves, about $5.73 million of which is sitting in dedicated reserves for it’s building authority and is therefore untouchable.
Following the meeting, Board Chairman John Flynn III spoke of the payment of Fish and Richardson as having an effect on “climate change” in the boardroom.
“Fish and Richardson is an invoice that has to be paid. That was a service contract that had to be put in place to address the Office of the Inspector General’s requirements in a way that was fair, thorough, and done in a way that was fully transparent.” he said. “We wanted to make sure we did it properly, we did it right, and we did it once, and they have done that for us.”
“It is expensive, no two ways about that, but fortunately, we happen to be in a financial position where this $900,000 will transfer out of reserves. Halfway through the fiscal year, we’re looking good,” he added.
Flynn also said that he hopes the $900,000 will net down to something “significantly less.”
“We’ll see when we do the April report for the third quarter, and then ultimately in June, whatever we have in reserves, we’ll use to offset that $900,000,” he said. “It is indeed coming down. I can only guess what it’s coming down to. With Kim’s leadership and the work of her staff, I’m confident that they’ll continue to look closely at the expenditures, because everyone understands the importance of maintaining that reserve.”
In attendance at last night’s meeting, in addition to Flynn, were former Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel, vice chair; President of Specialty Bolt & Screw Inc. Kevin R. Queenin, secretary; high school principal Terrell M. Hill; Stone Koury, student trustee and president/CEO of New England Geriatrics Steven P. Marcus.
Not in attendance were former president and executive director of Springfield Museums Joseph Carvalho III; attorney Christel Ford Berry; former First Justice of Worcester Juvenile Court Luis G. Perez and former Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto.