Following his resignation on the heels of Georgia Perimeter College's massive deficit earlier this year, former president Anthony Tricoli feels vindicated after a special audit found that the deficit didn't fall solely on him.
A September audit by the University System of Georgia found that although Tricoli initially alleged fraud by his fellow former employees following the announcement that the school had to make more than $25 million in cuts to balance this school year's budget, auditors did not find any instances of fraud. Rather, the ultimate blame for the financial mess was laid at Tricoli's feet.
"We concluded that senior GPC administrators failed to perform certain key fiduciary duties," the audit stated. "Chief among these fiduciary duties was responsibility to understand and manage the institution's fiscal affairs. Responsibility for the institution's management rests with the president." The audit's conclusion is what many suspected - namely that Tricoli and other's "emphasis on enrollment growth and program expansion took precedence over sound fiscal practice as management and leadership priorities," according to a previous article.
According to legislative Representative Karla Drenner, "GPC's former fiscal leadership team relied on inaccurate, internally generated spreadsheets that did not correspond to the General Ledger. Specifically, it appears that members of GPC's cabinet, to include the former president, and both the president's council and the strategic budget committee were provided incomplete and inaccurate budget presentations made by the CBO and the budget director at various group meetings... To summarize, it cannot be determined where the budget was overspent because it was not allocated correctly and contained errors and omissions... It is clear from our review that GPC's CBO did not provide GPC's president with timely and reliable financial information for the president's use in managing the institution."
Tricoli said Thursday that University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby initially contacted him and offered him a position at the state level if he would step away from his position at GPC. Tricoli said he agreed to do so and within days of making the agreement, the chancellor called him back and told him there was no other position for him.
"I would have thought that the chancellor and the board would have wanted the facts of the situation to be known by them before they made a decision to not renew my contract," said Tricoli.
"I think the findings stand on their own whether or not people believe whether or not I was inappropriately treated by the university system... Their actions were certainly not in line with the findings," he said.
"Each year, the University System holds budget hearings with each college president and the college leadership team to review how the college is doing financially. During each of the years between 2006 and 2012, not one time did the USG Chancellor, two-year college sector head, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs, associate vice chancellors, or USG Auditors ever indicate they had any concerns about GPC's budget, not once, never. The University System called these hearings and led these budget hearings annually, and they asked dozens upon dozens of questions, but they never once raised any concerns about GPC's budget.
"Yet the associate vice chancellor for fiscal affairs told me on April 26, that the office of fiscal affairs knew for three years that GPC's budget director was spending down the budget. Nor did they tell me he was inappropriately managing the budget, or that he misreported and misrepresented the facts of the budget to me and the college's executive team," said Tricoli in an email.
"The University System staff has a responsibility to communicate these issues with the college presidents, especially if they are going to hold college presidents accountable for information the University System had for three years. I agree with what many have said over the past eight months - the University System's budget oversight process failed GPC, it was weak, insufficient and ineffective and if they had been on top of their game none of this would have happened at GPC. At any point between 2009 and 2012, the University System could have stopped this situation at GPC from occurring with one phone call to me. The fact that on June 5, the chancellor completely rewrote the USG's budget oversight process should communicate to all that he recognized the USG's budget oversight review process was a failure, and it was that process that enabled the situation at GPC to occur in April of 2012."
Tricoli denied that his sole focus during his time at GPC was in growing enrollment as some have suggested, saying he focused instead on increasing access for students who wanted to come to college. However, the enrollment grew from 13,000 students to 27,000 during his tenure. It has since fallen to roughly 24,000 students.
"When you run an operation the size of GPC with 27,000 students, five campuses and 3,000 employees and a budget $170 million, it is a very complicated organization to lead. As a result of those issues that surface it is reasonable that I should have been able to rely upon the data that was presented to me by the budget team to be accurate. It was not reasonable for me to assume that the budget inform I received from the budget information team was false. Nor that the human resources office was mismanaging calculations of fringe benefits for every single employee at the college," he said.
Roughly two years ago, Tricoli spoke to the Chamber of Commerce and said that GPC was primed for growth in Newton County. When asked Thursday if he still believed that, Tricoli said he did not.
"For an institution to be primed for growth, the institution needs to have the right culture across the campuses," he said. "Everybody has to be on the same page as to why that growth is important. For us, it was about increased access for students for the opportunity for a college education. And chancellor [Erroll] Davis' goal was to increase the enrollment by 100,000 students by 2020 and I believed we could help him meet that goal... And you have to have an action plan that is reasonable, measurable and will help you get to your end goal and a leader that believes in the process and knows how to manage that process. Without any one of those things, that goal of bring primed for growth is not likely to be a success."
Tricoli is currently working with other college leaders across the country to assist them in some consulting services.
"I'm in the process of looking for a new position. I love the job and the work of leadership in higher education and I would like to continue that work at some administrative level at a college or university in the future," he said.
"I have tremendous respect for Representative Drenner and I am pleased that she has the fortitude to stand on the principle of truth and justice, as well as being innocent until proven guilty."