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Senator asks for USF leaders to be investigated

TAMPA — The powerful lawmaker who crusaded to make the University of South Florida Polytechnic independent is now asking state leaders to investigate USF president Judy Genshaft.

State Sen. J.D. Alexander on Wednesday accused Genshaft and other USF leaders of intentionally misleading the Florida Board of Governors as they lobbied against separation. The Senate budget chairman called USF's statements and actions "not consistent with the facts," and said they were aimed at discrediting USF Poly's leadership.

"These actions must be publicly understood," Alexander said.

In a letter sent to the board that oversees the state's 11 public universities, Alexander, R-Lake Wales, specifically highlights USF Poly's new campus construction plans, crafted by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, as evidence of Genshaft's deception.

She approved them, the letter says, but failed to reveal her involvement at last week's board meeting in Boca Raton. In doing so, Alexander wrote, Genshaft purposely tried to harm USF Poly chancellor Marshall Goodman's "professional reputation in order to defeat the consideration of Polytechnic's independence."

Not true, says Genshaft.

In her own letter to the board Wednesday, she says the "USF system prides itself on transparent operations."

A spokesman also pointed out that in Genshaft's comments to the board last week she did not criticize the construction project, nor levy any accusations against Goodman's leadership.

Genshaft said that she takes very seriously the task to move USF Poly's future forward, and that USF's website will today begin documenting the progress toward benchmarks the board laid out as conditions of independence.

The dueling letters send a clear signal that the USF Poly split debate is nowhere near over.

In his message, Alexander seized on one of the concerns the board raised before taking that vote: the $100 million price tag of USF Poly's new campus.

Alexander attached to his letter several contracts Genshaft signed to hire Calatrava. Alexander also lists trips the USF president took with Goodman to meet Calatrava in Switzerland and New York, and he references a $1 million contribution USF accepted from the contractor of the new site. The money bought pianos for the music department, the letter said.

"I'm sure that's a wonderful thing," Alexander told the St. Petersburg Times, "but I'm not sure how proper that is."

In his letter, he asks for all USF's records relating to the new campus procurement and a disclosure of all costs, including campus-related travel, by USF leadership and its board of trustees.

Alexander's letter came just a few hours after two other senators called for another USF Poly investigation — with Sens. Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano asking Goodman, for the second time, to release details about what they called "questionable expenditures" under his reign.

Goodman, who spent $10,000 on four science fiction statues and pledged half a million dollars for a video documentary on the new campus's construction, brushed off the senators' request.

Instead, he directed Dockery and Fasano to existing state audits that found no "material weaknesses" in the campus' spending on a broad scale. If the senators want more information, Goodman wrote, he would "welcome an opportunity to discuss the purposes of these expenditures and their importance to the USF Poly mission which is not always conveyed in the popular media."

That wasn't good enough for the senators, who sent Goodman a second letter asking for details of all the campus's contracts, consultants, vendors, leases, salaries, travel expenditures, students fees and reserve accounts since he arrived.

Times-Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Kim Wilmath at kwilmath@sptimes.com.

Senator asks for USF leaders to be investigated 11/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:28am]
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