Four Medical College of Georgia administrators spent nearly $6,900 to fly to Los Angeles in early June to meet with incoming MCG President Ricardo Azziz, according to documents obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act.
One of those involved defended the action as necessary for the kind of intensive planning needed for the transition to Azziz, who takes over as president today.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. will join Azziz today to take part in a ceremony to sign reorganization documents that restore the MCG president as head of the school's clinical systems.
Azziz, a prominent researcher, was chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles before being tapped as MCG president. On June 8, four administrators flew to Los Angeles to meet with Azziz while he was packing his laboratory for the move to Augusta, according to Deborah L. Barshafsky, the vice president for strategic support, who is one of the four. The other three are: William Bowes, senior vice president for finance and administration; R. Bryan Ginn Jr., assistant to the president for external relations; and Elizabeth Meehan, interim vice president for development.
The group stayed at the Sofitel Los Angeles hotel, which is across the street from Azziz's lab and frequently used by visitors to Cedars-Sinai, Barshafsky said. They rented a meeting room for two days of in-depth planning, and rented audiovisual equipment, including a speakerphone, to call MCG to bring others in when needed, she said. The room and expenses cost $1,810.
"We didn't want to take a junket where we took 20 people because we were aware of the costs associated with this," Barshafsky said. "So what we did was we called in for certain items and we had people on standby" to answer questions.
The trip was paid for by the Georgia Health Sciences University Foundation out of an account called the presidential transition fund. The foundation funds were used so a single fund could finance the trip, rather than charging each administrator's expenses to their departments' budgets, Barshafsky said.
The trip allowed Bowes to take Azziz on a "deep dive" into MCG's finances and allowed others to do intensive planning with the new boss, Barshafsky said. Her issue was "strategic planning and core institutional priorities in messaging," she said, while others talked about fundraising, for instance. After two days of meetings and working dinners and lunches, the MCG crew left around midnight the final day, Barshafsky said.
The meetings perhaps could have been done over the phone, she said.
"I assume that really that's the question that could be asked about any meeting, but in light of what we wanted to accomplish this really was the best way to do it," Barshafsky said.
She has heard nothing but "positive feedback," she said.
"People know that we've got a huge amount of work ahead of us and Dr. Azziz certainly wants to, as a new president, hit the ground running," Barshafsky said. "It was an important investment of time and resources."