Georgia Regents University officials violated state Board of Regents policy when its vehicles and personnel were used to support a private wedding at the home of GRU President Ricardo Azziz, according to an auditor’s report released Friday.
The report on the “special review” by the university system’s Office of Internal Audit and Compliance also found that GRU officials violated policy in allowing more than $97,000 in renovations at the president’s Milledge Road home without seeking board approval.
Chief Audit Officer John M. Fuchko III wrote that his office “did not detect intent on the part of GRU senior administrators to violate Board Policy or misuse state resources,” but rather a “lack of awareness of relevant Board Policy and applicable regulations.”
Azziz had asked to have the board look into questions raised by The Augusta Chronicle about the use of a university shuttle bus and police at a wedding April 20 at the state-owned president’s home, known as Twin Gables.
The bus was used to ferry wedding guests from the Partridge Inn to the wedding and to a photo shoot at Savannah Rapids Park in Columbia County. Four university police officers provided security and split a $400 gratuity for their services, the report said.
The auditor’s report said senior GRU administrators, including the president, discussed using the shuttle and agreed that it would be more appropriate to rent a private vehicle for the guests.
“However, this decision was not communicated to the GRU Chief of Police, who had already arranged for an institution vehicle,” the report said. “The GRU Chief of Police did receive authorization from his supervisor, GRU General Counsel, to use the bus.”
The report found that two police vehicles were used at the wedding, even though GRU officials had originally reported only one patrol car was provided. The report said GRU Police Chief Bill McBride was not aware that a second unmarked police vehicle was used at the event.
The report questioned whether it was proper for police to work at the event at all.
The auditors found that when McBride arranged for him and three other officers to volunteer, one of the officers was an hourly employee and thus “could not volunteer under federal labor regulations.”
As for the other officers, the report said, “it is questionable whether the remaining officers would truly be considered volunteers in these circumstances. The three salaried officers were on institution property, in uniform, and performing services consistent with those for which they receive a salary.”
The report found it was a violation of policy for the officers to receive a gratuity for their services, even though they “did not perceive they were on duty.”
Auditors found that a GRU housekeeper and groundskeeper also performed services for the wedding in exchange for a gratuity.
As part of the university’s corrective actions, GRU officials stated that “all university staff, including the police officers, the housekeeper and the groundskeeper, will return any gratuities they were given, and that money will be deposited with the university. All those staff will be paid through the university in accordance with our normal policies.”
Any additional costs identified for personnel or vehicles in the wedding will be billed to the groom, Brian Straessle, according to the report.
Auditors found other irregularities in how the president’s home was being managed. The report said a housekeeper assigned to Twin Gables was providing services “prohibited by Board Policy, such as washing dishes,” and was being paid on the side for doing extra work there, which also is prohibited.
Auditors identified $97,907 in expenditures and obligations for projects at the home, including a third-floor renovation, for which GRU officials didn’t obtain board approval.
The report said GRU provided a cost analysis for improvements dating to fiscal year 2001 at Twin Gables showing that more than $363,000 in work was done, none of which appeared to have been approved by the Board of Regents.
“Going forward, GRU must obtain prior review and approval for all proposed upgrades to the president’s home,” the report said.
In response to the findings, Azziz listed a series of corrective actions and responses, including having himself and 19 members of his senior staff attend a six-hour training session on board policies, which was conducted Tuesday by Fuchko. GRU Chief Integrity Officer Jim Rush will prepare a training plan for the “wider university community,” according to the report.
Azziz issued a statement Friday taking responsibility for the “issues identified in the report.”
“GRU is a large, complex, and evolving institution and the transformative efforts we are undertaking have no precedent. Notwithstanding, I am sorry that in this situation my staff and I were not aware of relevant policies, relying instead on past practice,” the statement said.
University system Chancellor Hank Huckaby said he accepted the findings.
“I appreciate the work that has been done and am satisfied that Georgia Regents University’s action plan will address the issues identified,” his statement said. “Dr. Azziz and the GRU community have our support, and we will continue to provide appropriate oversight.”