University Official Fired From Division That Lost $3.3 Million

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An associate vice chancellor for the University of Arkansas was fired Friday, and now officials are trying to determine whether documents chronicling the reason for the termination are public record.

John Diamond was terminated from his position as associate vice chancellor for university relations with 30 days notice, according to a statement from Chris Wyrick, the university’s vice chancellor for university advancement.

“The reason for his termination are contained in correspondence Mr. Diamond received from me today,” Wyrick said in the statement.

University officials told Diamond they believe the correspondence is available for public release through the state Freedom on Information Act. However, Diamond “declined to allow release of the documents and wishes to seek an opinion from the Arkansas Attorney General,” Wyrick said.

The university is waiting for an opinion from the attorney general before releasing the correspondence, according to the statement.

A national search to replace Diamond will begin immediately. Roy Cordell, senior director of creative services, will serve as interim associate vice chancellor for university relations when Diamond officially leaves at the end of September, according to a university statement released on Friday.

University relations is part of the University Advancement division, a part of the UA that has made several staff changes in the last year, following a $3.3 million deficit due to money mismanagement.

UA officials said in July that newly-announced staff changes after the money mismanagement would not result in the immediate termination of any employee, but does include several changes to key leadership positions.

“Change is never easy, but sometimes it is necessary,” Wyrick said at the time. “I think everyone, inside and outside this division, expects changes. At the same time, my prime goal was to ensure that no jobs were cut, and we did achieve that goal.”

Wyrick replaced Brad Choate, who was heading the division at the time of the financial shortfall. Choate was asked at the time to find a new job by the end of the fiscal year. A search for his name in the UA directory finds no results, and he’s not listed on the Advancement Division’s website.

Joy Sharp, the budget official reassigned after the deficit became public, was docked $30,000 in pay. A search of her name also shows no results in the UA directory.

The restructuring includes replacing the leader of the Advancement Division’s fundraising arm with Mark Power, the newly-named associate vice chancellor for university development. The previous leader, Bruce Pontious, retired in the spring, according to the UA.

Key assistant vice chancellor positions in external relations and internal operations have also changed hands, along with several other leadership and staff positions. Most changes were effective starting July 1.

Two campus officials were reassigned in December following a multi-million-dollar shortfall for the University Advancement division due to improper money management.

UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart said the division had been meeting its budget by using anticipated revenue to meet current budget obligations. Miscalculations in the anticipated revenue led to a shortfall of more than $3 million for the Division of University Advancement’s $10 million budget, according to the statement.

The money was properly used for the division’s activities, but the division officials’ management of the money was “imprudent and unacceptable,” Gearhart said.

The division used money to fill staffing needs “while miscalculating the funding levels necessary to support those positions,” Gearhart said at the time.

Gearhart sent the audit requests to University of Arkansas System President Donald R. Bobbitt and state legislative auditor Roger A. Norman, according to a news statement released by the university Tuesday.

“As I explained previously, the university’s treasurer—a former state auditor—reviewed the advancement division’s expenditures and found no misuse or misappropriation of university funds,” Gearhart said in the statement. “However, she raised concerns regarding the job performance or lack of performance by individuals who had primary responsibility for the division’s finances.  The treasurer documented those issues and job performance concerns last fall. In making personnel decisions relating to this matter, I relied on the treasurer’s assessment of their performance.”

Gearhart said the performance assessments are not public record, and the university will not release them. The university shared the assessments with auditors.

“The university has been transparent and accountable about this situation,” Gearhart said. “I believe these audits will demonstrate that performance while still respecting the legal protections afforded public employees under Arkansas law.”

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