Ohio University’s former LGBT Center director has responded to allegations of misuse of a university credit card after the results of an internal audit of OU’s Diversity and Inclusion offices last year were made public recently.
The university’s decision to not renew center Director delfin bautista’s contract, communicated to bautista on Jan. 10, prompted a firestorm of criticism in the campus community, including among LGBT members and allies, much of it directed at the OU official who made the decision, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Gigi Secuban.
The former LGBT Center director (who uses they/them pronouns and the lowercase spelling of their name), stated in an email Tuesday that they (bautista) were never notified of concerns about their spending until the OU Post student newspaper published a story on the audit’s findings on Jan. 31. bautista maintained that all of their (bautista’s) expenditures that were questioned in the audit – including meals purchased for students, volunteers, staff and bautista – had legitimate business purposes.
Earlier this week, an OU spokesperson provided The Athens NEWS with records of communications involving the internal audit conducted by Jeff Davis, who heads the university’s Internal Audit office. The main document, dated Dec. 12, 2018, notes that VP Secuban requested that Davis conduct a review of all purchases that Diversity and Inclusion offices made using university purchasing cards from July 1, 2017, through Aug 3, 2018. During that time period, Davis found that bautista had spent $35,855; the next-highest spender was Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, associate director of OU’s Multicultural Center, with $18,733 spent; followed by Tyrone Carr, special assistant to Secuban and now-interim director of the LGBT Center, with $15,640 spent during that time.
In total, the audit office found that six of the eight employees in the Diversity and Inclusion office made $7,247.58 worth of purchases that were not covered under OU policies, with bautista accounting for the lion’s share, $6,276, of those transactions. Davis wrote that Secuban should consider consulting with OU’s Finance office about whether “reimbursement is appropriate.”
“These transactions were identified as policy exceptions because they did not meet the requirements of policy, lacked sufficient documentation, lack of prior approval in the case of spousal meals, were personal in nature, appeared unreasonable or unnecessary, and in some cases the business purpose stated appears to be contrary to other documentation gathered by IA (Internal Audit),” Davis wrote.
Davis recommended that Secuban consider “possible disciplinary actions” with OU’s Human Resources office, as well as consideration of closing bautista’s purchasing card or suspending it while training was conducted.
The expenditures on bautista’s university card were grouped into several categories, which are outlined below.
• Transactions lacking an itemized receipt, which is required for university purchases made using these cards. Only one purchased was identified for bautista, and it was $44 in movie tickets at the Athena Grand on East State Street.
• Business meeting meals or entertainment must have a business purpose and include two or more people. The audit identified bautista spending $2,104 between Jan. 1, 2017 and Aug. 3, 2018 that did not meet the criteria of a “business meal” because they were “self-care” and “staff” meals. These included $245.30 for a “staff training” at Ruby Tuesday; $109.51 for a “self-care meal (students upset over inauguration)” of U.S. President Donald Trump at El Camino in Athens; a $77.95 “self-care” dinner at Applebee’s for a student who was hospitalized; and a $86.10 “self-care staff meeting – staff feeling burnt out” at OU’s Shively Dining Hall.
• Entertainment expenses that did not meet the criteria of “official university entertainment.” The audit identified bautista spending $911.90 in an alleged inappropriate manner in this area. That includes $203.85 for pizza for students who protested Trump’s immigration policies in a mass protest on Feb. 1, 2017; a $98,44 self-care meal for the “parent of a student” at Shade on State Street; and a $175.39 open doors “self-care dinner” for staff/members at Ruby Tuesday.
• Transactions for gifts where the transaction lacked sufficient documentation. The audit listed a single $60.99 purchase at Passion Works as a “thank-you gift for pride graduation.”
• Several “thank-you meals” purchased that failed to “have a business purpose or meet the authorized purposes for incurring entertainment expenses,” and were otherwise purchased for staff of the LGBT Center, and were not for persons “external to the university.” These included a $145.23 meal at Applebee’s for staff and volunteers who helped with Safezone and Speakout information sessions during the year; and multiple meals at the OU Food Cart and other restaurants to thank workers and volunteers who helped clean the LGBT Center (totaling roughly $341.09).
• Several expenses related to bautista’s spouse traveling with or having meals with bautista without obtaining prior approval from the university. These totaled about $149.59.
• Roughly $495.76 made in “personal purchases,” including $246 spent on clothing items relating to non-profits that supported issues such as suicide awareness and LGBT inclusion. These purchases also included $128.40 on rainbow tiaras for a drag show, and a $16 My Little Pony Coin Bank for the LGBT Center.
• Around $500 spent sponsoring a National Eating Disorder Association walk.
• Around $1,109.82 spent on meeting and entertainment expenses that appear “unnecessary.” Almost all of these expenses related to meals for the SHADES student group at OU, which is a group for LGBT students of color, including one alleged “off-campus event with alcohol.”
IN BAUTISTA’S LENGTHY RESPONSE sent to the Internal Audit office on Feb. 4, bautista offered explanations for nearly all of this spending.
“Many of the meals were for the leadership team and members of the student group SHADES, a group for LGBTQ people of color,” bautista wrote. “Because of transitions in their leadership, SHADES was not able to obtain funding from the university. As director, I decided to help the group re-establish itself and offered funding through the (LGBT) center. As reflected in the agendas I submitted with receipts, many of the conversations with members of SHADES focused on re-energizing the leadership of the group, recruitment strategies, planning of events, and exploring topics such as navigating the realities of being a double minority group at a predominately white institution and community.”
bautista noted frequently in their (bautista’s) own defense that many of the expenses listed as questionable would have been acceptable if bautista had used funds from the OU Foundation to pay for them instead.
“Because I was the only fulltime employee for the LGBT Center with little admin support (the Multicultural Center provided support for a short time), I relied on student staff and volunteers to help with programs such as trainings and panel discussions, as well as larger events such as vigils and guest speakers,” bautista wrote. “For student staff, this help was often provided outside of their work schedules and off the clock. Volunteers received no compensation beyond fulfilling requirements for scholarships and other academic responsibilities.
“As a result, meals provided were opportunities to debrief events in addition to thanking individuals for their time and help. I did not know at the time as I do now that (OU) foundation accounts are the appropriate funding source for these types of transactions.”
INTERNAL AUDIT’S DAVIS in a supplemental document dated Dec. 14, 2018, noted that among university employees, bautista ranked the eighth highest in terms of overall spending for meals in Athens in fiscal year 2018. Davis wrote that this occurred in spite of “budget overspending and budget concerns expressed by (former Provost for Diversity and Inclusion) Shari Clarke in an email on March 23, 2017.”
After that email and before the fiscal year’s end in that year, bautista made $2,240 in purchases using the university credit card, resulting in a $2,166 budget deficit for the center. Without additional funding transfers, the LGBT Center would have overspent its original budget by $48,773 during that year. Davis noted that the LGBT Center overspent its budget by $5,564 in FY14, underspent its budget by $2,411 in FY15, and overspent by $572 in FY16.
Davis added that his office identified a “significant amount of personal reimbursements related to bautista’s PCard purchases.” These have totaled roughly $1,242 since 2014, and mostly related to sales tax charged, personal expenses mistakenly charged to the card, or meal tips exceeding 20 percent.
“In addition to the significant amount, the frequency with which personal reimbursements were necessary, as well as lack of timely repayment due to the employee’s expressed financials strain, was of concern,” Davis wrote.
bautista explained that the LGBT Center going over its budget was largely the result of several issues beyond bautista’s control.
“The going over the budget at the end of the fiscal year 2014 resulted from the center being charged twice for a GA (graduate assistant),” bautista wrote. “In 2016 we were over budget as a result of expenses resulting from an accident returning from a conference; one of the vans was involved in a crash and the center was charged for the towing of the vehicle from Indianapolis to Athens… I believe there is information that either is being omitted or missing. I previously explained to Dr. Secuban that the center appeared to be in the red due to the travel to a LGBT conference in Omaha, as well as purchasing of new furniture for the center.”
Davis identified a wide range of items that were purchased by bautista that were present at the LGBT Center during the audit and were not “converted to personal use,” but still should be considered “whether these purchases were necessary for programmatic needs or whether there is evidence of waste.” These included Bluetooth speakers, games, nail polish, a punching bag, Care Bears, kites, a slow cooker, decorative pillows, a poop emoji piñata, a hammock, and other items.
bautista wrote that all of those items are still in the LGBT Center and were used by center visitors or staff.
“Supplies from clothing to nail polish to coloring utensils were all used in center programming as many of events involved crafting,” bautista wrote. “We also hosted makeup tutorials for drag performers and partnered with Housing/Res Life on a workshop focused on drag performances. Supplies such as makeup, T-shirts and pins have also been used in programs with PRISM, the after-school art program the center co-founded with Arts West and United Campus Ministry. Items were never for my own personal use and remain in the center.”
bautista added that using their own “personal financial struggles” as a way of stating that they would misuse their purchasing card is “both insulting and undermining.”
“I admit there were a few instances in which I used my p-card to buy groceries or purchased an item without realizing it; however, these were whole-heartedly unintentional, and I made sure to reimburse the university fully,” bautista wrote.
When asked by the university why most of these allegedly questionable purchases weren’t flagged sooner, rather than coming out in an audit after the fact, OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said the following:
“…Page 2 of the attached Special Project memo identifies several transactions that have been flagged for reimbursement over the years,” she wrote. “The recent Diversity and Inclusion concur report review was undertaken by Internal Audit staff to take a deeper look at the division’s finances and to understand spending trends within the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. The purpose of such reviews is to take a deeper look at compliance and adherence to policy.”