In the wake of Florida State College at Jacksonville's board agreement to pay $1.2 million for President Steven Wallace to retire under a cloud, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked the state inspector general to investigate the compensation of all college presidents.
On Tuesday, the FSCJ's trustees voted to accept a modified contract with Wallace that would allow him to step down as president at the end of this year and remain working from home on a special assignment through June 2014. He would collect $1.2 million in pay and benefits over those 20 months.
"One-point-two million dollars for a golden parachute is excessive," Scott said Friday after signing a bill at Ponte Vedra High School. "These are taxpayer dollars. That money should be put into education for our children. We've got to look at how this money's being spent, the severance packages that are being given. ... This is taxpayer money. That's supposed to be going into education. It shouldn't be going for somebody's severance package."
Scott cited Wallace's payout and a $540,000 settlement to its outgoing president leaving amid allegations of failed leadership and inappropriate spending in his letter to Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel asking for a "review of risks presented to taxpayers through existing employment contracts with college presidents within the Florida State College System."
Scott also asked that the inquiry include a review of the FSCJ Foundation for the last five years, as to the purpose and beneficiary of each expenditure.
"I also ask that you review the governance structure and internal controls association with the Foundation and its expenditure approval process," Scott wrote to the inspector general.
Scott noted more than $46,000 in foundation and college funds was reimbursed to Wallace for meals over a two-year period -- an average of $450 per week.
"While these expenses purportedly advanced the interests of the college, expenses that solely benefited the president and board members merit a thorough review," Scott wrote to the inspector general.
Gwen Yates, the chairwoman of the FSCJ trustees, released a statement that the board will fully cooperate with the state's investigation.
"I appreciate and respect the governor's continued interest in FSCJ," Yates said. "All of us, from the board and throughout the college, will provide whatever assistance we can to ensure a prompt, thorough and accurate review."
Douglas Burnett, vice chairman of the board and the only board member to vote against Wallace's retirement package, said Scott's request for an investigation is entirely appropriate.
"We live in a very challenging economic environment, everybody is watching the dollars ... and I think people look at this as off the scale, it’s over the top," Burnett said.
In an email to the FSCJ board sent just before it convened its Tuesday meeting on terminating Wallace's contract, he asked that he be allowed a “soft landing.”
"At this point the key consideration for me and my family is to be treated fairly in recognition of my 15 years of successful leadership, in taking this college to a significantly higher level," Wallace told the board.
In arguing that he needed a decent exit package, Wallace pointed out the trustees signed Wallace to a new, four-year contract in June. The majority of the trustees agreed.
"If people in the audience or people in the community have difficulty with Dr. Wallace’s contract and what he is promised under that contract, then you have difficult not with Dr. Wallace, but with this board, because we negotiated that contract," said board member Suzanne Thamm.
In approving Wallace's amended contract Tuesday, the board said he would be on special assignment after Jan. 1, 2013, work from home and not use any school resources or funds.
Burnett continues to insist the board could have negotiated a better deal and he remains unclear about what Wallace is supposed to do between when he steps down as president and when his employment with the college ends.
"I'm not clear what those duties are going to be," Burnett said.
The board has said it would discuss the search process for its next president at its scheduled Nov. 6 meeting.