Sunday, October 21, 2018
Education

Fallout from USF Poly investigation: resignations, a call for former leader's firing

They asked for this six months ago:

A full financial review of all spending at the University of South Florida Polytechnic under former chancellor Marshall Goodman — much like what was done by USF and made public Wednesday, asserting that Goodman facilitated financial mismanagement under a hostile working environment.

Sens. Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano, both longtime critics of Goodman and the idea to split the USF Poly campus off into the state's 12th university, are now asking, "What if?"

What if this investigation had been done when they asked for it back in October? Before the Florida Board of Governors voted to allow USF Poly to split off? Before the Legislature approved a bill speeding up that transition? Before Gov. Rick Scott signed the new university into law?

"Would this have changed the course of this string of activities?" Dockery, R-Lakeland, wonders.

"It's a travesty," Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

That was just part of the fallout Thursday, as news of the investigation's details spread.

On campus in Lakeland, two USF Poly directors turned in resignation letters.

Samantha Lane, the campus' spokeswoman, and Maggie Mariucci, director of development, cited a toxic, stressful environment as their reason for leaving. Lane made $70,000 a year. Mariucci made $65,000.

Another staffer got up from her desk and walked out, said interim chancellor David Touchton, wondering aloud whether she would come back.

"I'm kind of a little sad," Touchton said. "All this drama, drama."

The investigation, sparked by an anonymous complaint a couple of months ago, came at a time of upheaval on the Lakeland campus.

Just a week ago, Scott signed a bill that forces USF to relinquish all the assets of its Lakeland campus to the new university's board, which has not yet been set up. Under the deal, USF gets $10 million to pay for the continued education of the campus' existing students.

USF is now working out how many of USF Poly's existing staff members it will be able to retain with that money when the official transfer happens July 1.

That uncertainty, plus the dirty laundry being aired, doesn't make for the best mood.

Touchton sighed.

"I just wish we could get on with our challenge without the drama," he said.

Touchton, who voiced concerns about a rush to make the campus an independent university months before USF president Judy Genshaft tapped him to take over after Goodman's ousting, said he has been working hard on "cleanup" of the campus he inherited.

That includes shutting down the campus' Blue Sky business incubators — at the center of much of the investigation released Wednesday — which Touchton said were a $600,000-a-year drain on the campus.

Add to that $3.3 million more in wasteful spending identified by Touchton in the past few months, including international programs for the 1,300-student branch campus and several top positions Touchton said were unnecessary.

That sort of spending, and more, is what had worried Dockery and Fasano in the months leading up to the decision to split USF Poly off.

After news broke last fall that Goodman pledged $500,000 for a documentary video of new campus construction, spent $10,000 on Star Wars statues and hired his two sons, Dockery and Fasano wrote to Genshaft, asking her to fully investigate finances under Goodman's control.

Genshaft told the senators that the way Florida's statutes are written, USF Poly had budgetary autonomy and had to speak for itself.

The senators sent another request directly to Goodman, who replied that state audits for the past several years all came back clean. Not good enough, the senators said, deeming those routine audits too superficial.

That's when Goodman relented, saying he would be "delighted" to provide the information and answered a few initial questions. But he never went further than that.

Now Fasano is calling for the permanent firing of Goodman, who remains on the USF payroll while on a year's leave collecting a $254,000 salary.

Goodman's attorney, Robin Gibson, brushed that suggestion off Thursday, saying "the senator doesn't have anything to do with the hiring or firing of anybody."

But Fasano didn't stop there, suggesting that law enforcement may have to get involved to further investigate alleged mismanagement of public dollars.

"Unless the Board of Governors makes a clean sweep and permanently cuts ties with this individual, the reputation of the University of South Florida will suffer," Fasano said, "and Florida Polytechnic will forever have a pall cast over it."

Gov. Scott, while noting that he had not seen the USF investigative report, seemed to also have some concerns.

"Look, you expect, with your tax dollars, that all your money be spent well," Scott said Thursday. "I take it seriously. I look into it to make sure that your tax dollars — these are your dollars — are not wasted."

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3337.

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