Regents claim their K-State audit is exempt from public disclosure

Higher ed governing body cites personnel exclusion

The Kansas Board of Regents has declined to release findings of an audit it commissioned to mark the transition of Kansas State University presidents, claiming an exemption to the state’s open-records law.

The Manhattan Mercury filed a formal request for the audit last month.

According to its response Tuesday, the Board conducted a “2009 exit analysis of Kansas State University President Jon Wefald focusing on certain non-state accounts administered or controlled by the president or his direct subordinates.”

The Regents, however, said the findings of the study are off limits.

This is believed to be the first time the Regents have conducted such an audit, though the new practice will mean similar audits of outgoing Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway and president of Pittsburg State University Tom Bryant.

According to Board of Regents attorney Theresa Marcel-Bush, the exit analysis is considered confidential because it “addresses the president’s handling of certain non-state funded accounts, a matter involving an employee of the Board acting within the scope of that employment.”

Regents are claiming an exemption to the open records law that allows it to shelter “personnel records, performance ratings or individually identifiable records pertaining to employees or applicants for employment.”

Mike Merriam, an attorney for Kansas Press Association, said Wednesday that the Regents’ logic was flawed.

“This is not a personnel matter,” he said. “This is examining policy considerations, funding sources, things like that. The purpose of the exemption is to protect the privacy interests of the employee. … But this has nothing to do with Wefald’s privacy.”

The Regents, while they did not release the audit itself, did release a small collection of documents, including an October 2008 agreement between the Board and Kansas City-based auditing firm Grant Thornton. The firm was hired to analyze alumni and foundation funds provided to KSU, as well as athletics accounts.

Also on Oct. 20, a board letter addressed to Gary Hellebust, president of the KSU Foundation, verifies the foundation’s agreement to fund the review.

According to that correspondence: “The goal is to be able to provide assurances to an incoming president that things are in order, or to the extent that issues are identified that need to be addressed, they are addressed by the current administration prior to the arrival of a new president,” the letter states.

Records showed bills from Grant Thornton equaled nearly $126,000. It was not clear whether that was the audit’s total cost.

While the audit was not released, some information has become public. KSU officials disclosed to the Mercury in February documents related to overload payments authorized by Wefald to Bob Krause, the vice president for institutional advancement and athletics director, for his work related to athletics. Those payments totaled nearly $250,000, from 2001 to 2008. Records related to those payments were uncovered in the process, officials said.