Private language tutoring, donations to the United Way, flowers for secretaries and bottled spring water for his office were some of the ways Erie Community College President Louis M. Ricci overspent a presidential discretionary account by up to $40,000, according to a report presented to the ECC board Wednesday.
Ricci is already under fire from some ECC board members and county legislators for spending more than $7,000 on foreign travel from the account, which is generated by profits on campus bookstores and cafeterias.
The spending documented Wednesday, the report charged, caused administrators to raid other accounts to pay the overexpenditures.
Written by board member and attorney Thomas H. Burton, the report said the overspending forced the college's Auxiliary Services Corp. to tap a $13,000 restricted student-graduation account and siphon off money from a Pepsi-Cola contract that pays the school $20,000 a year.
During the previous two academic years, Ricci also circumvented college and the Auxiliary Service Corp.'s guidelines for competitive bidding at least seven times, the report charged, by spending more than $1,000 without bidding.
The expenses included $14,000 spent on a public relations firm for a gala that never took place; $7,000 to pay for meals and lodging for visiting foreign students and $4,000 for a banner announcing the school's 50th anniversary.
"What we find most troublesome," Burton said, "is the fact that these additional debts, amounting to what may be over $40,000, were incurred simply by presidential fiat."
Burton, who presented the report with fellow board member Joseph D. DiVincenzo, stressed there was no wrongdoing involved.
"I want to emphasize Dr. Ricci was operating in an environment without a single guideline (for the discretionary account)," Burton said. "Not a single dollar is missing."
Ricci, who was not asked for any input or explanation following the report, offered none and sat without comment.
There was plenty of wrangling beforehand, as Burton distributed the 13-page report just minutes prior to its discussion.
Board members Raymond F. Gallagher and Marybeth Cullinan were among those who objected to having to digest that much information on the spur of the moment, but were defeated in a bid to send
the report to committee or discuss it in executive session.
Dr. Jerome Barber, a sociology professor and chairman of the Auxiliary Services Board, said outside the board room that his organization could do little about the spending because board members only learned of it after the money had been spent.
The 21-member board, made up with equal representation from students, faculty and administrators, was faced with embarrassing the college by not paying the bills or finding other ways to make up for the overexpenditures.
In addition, he said, Raymond Barsukiewicz, who was executive director at the time of the overspending, is no longer with the corporation, and its board has already taken a number of steps to tighten procedures.
Among Burton's recommendations in the report, which was tabled for a lack of deciding vote either way, is to limit Ricci's discretionary account to $7,000 a year, institute better financial controls, and prohibit him from spending any money on businesses owned by ECC board members.
Some of the money was spent in a restaurant as well as a travel agency controlled by board members.
In other business, trustees:
Rejected a plan suggested by the Erie County attorney's office to sue the top 100 tuition deadbeats in a pilot program designed to recover some of the $3 million in unpaid tuition the college is owed.
Board Chairman Richard T. Quinn led the opposition after it was learned that county attorneys planned to hire lawyers to go after unpaid accounts from suburban students but not those in Buffalo because of what was called a better chance of collecting.
Board members said it was discriminatory, and would open up the county for a lawsuit on constitutional grounds.
Learned that ECC faces a $640,000 deficit because the State Legislature raised the maximum tuition cap to only $2,600 this year, and then $2,500 next year. ECC was planning to charge $2,690 tuition. Originally, the shortfall was projected at $2 million when the state planned to allow no more than $2,500 be charged.