The president of St. Petersburg College did not violate school or state rules by hiring a friend to a $64,000 administrative post, according to an independent audit released Tuesday.
But the audit determined that changes to the college's hiring process are needed, including some that would strip power from president Carl Kuttler, the state's longest-tenured college president.
"As I've said, if I was a board member, I would have asked for" an audit, Kuttler said. "I'm pleased by the results."
The audit focused Violetta Sweet, a 34-year-old jewelry shop employee who was picked to lead the school's international studies unit, first as acting director in December 2007, then permanently the following July.
Auditor Ron Hamilton found no evidence that Kuttler abused his position in hiring Sweet but said the selection process created opportunities for people to perceive improprieties.
Sweet was chosen as acting director without the position being advertised. She was given the job full time though others appeared more qualified, a St. Petersburg Times review of the 65 applicants found.
Hamilton said Sweet's qualifications for the full-time position were based on her experience as acting director, and that some applicants were rejected because they were "too qualified."
His proposed changes, which were presented to the board of trustees, include:
• Advertising acting and interim jobs to all potential candidates.
• Lessening Kuttler's role in the hiring process. Kuttler interviews most finalists for faculty and administrative positions. The audit recommended he interview only for high-level management positions.
• Requiring interview training for hiring managers.
• Making job requirements and job descriptions less vague.
Kuttler said he would consider the audit's findings. He said the SPC human resources system is a model for other Florida schools. "But we always want to do better," Kuttler said.
Sweet, once a low-level college employee who earned $10.70 an hour, emigrated from Kazakhstan and spent the past three years at her estranged husband's jewelry shop.
Kuttler gave Sweet away at her wedding and provided counsel later when her marriage failed.
Before she was hired, Kuttler sent Sweet to Washington to attend a conference and paid her $1,000 as a consultant. Kuttler booked Sweet's hotel room for the trip with his personal credit card.
"There's a good system," said Hamilton, the auditor. There are a "few little problems that cause perception problems."
Trustee W. Richard Johnston cautioned his colleagues not to make rash decisions based on the audit's findings. He then said he disagreed with at least two recommendations from the report and one made by a trustee.
"I don't want us to tinker with something that's not broke," Johnston said.
Board members Deveron Gibbons, Ken Burke and Terrence Brett urged more time to review the report, which was given to Kuttler Friday and trustees on Monday. Kuttler said his staff would review the audit before any changes.