South Carolina State University board member Maurice Washington says he will ask trustees to approve an audit of the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center at the group's upcoming retreat.
Board Chairman Jonathan Pinson said he doesn't yet know if he would vote in favor of conducting an audit, but he plans to look into the center's finances before the retreat begins Sunday in Charleston.
Both members of the university's Board of Trustees were responding to a June 14 report in The Post and Courier, which found that 12 years after the center was launched, the site for a new building sits vacant, no transportation research is currently under way, and the program lost its designation as a federal transportation center.
More than $50 million has flowed to the center since 1998, about half for transportation programs and half for the first phase of a new transportation complex to be named in honor of Clyburn, the U.S. House majority whip and a graduate of S.C. State, South Carolina's only public historically black university.
While the university has most of the $26.3 million for the first phase of the new building on hand, a school finance official can't account for millions of federal dollars for transportation-related programs.
The university put in place a new financial recording system a few years ago, and it's difficult to access records from the old system, said Joseph Pearman, assistant vice president for business and finance.John Smalls, the university's senior vice president of finance and facilities, agreed Wednesday to discuss the transportation center's finances early next week.
Despite the setbacks, university officials have said they still plan to move forward on the new $80 million transportation complex.
Washington said he is calling for a report from an external auditor on both state and federal money
that has flowed through the center. The board needs to provide "sound oversight of the taxpayers' money," he said. And it must ensure that money sent to the university to benefit students is spent appropriately to serve those students. More than 90 percent of S.C. State's students come from low-income households, Washington said.
Board member Lumus Byrd also said he would likely vote to support an audit.
Pinson said he's been so concerned about moving the transportation center forward that he hasn't spent time looking at past projects and how money was previously spent. He will decide whether he supports an audit after talking to university finance officials, he said.
Pinson also said he wants the transportation center to move forward because he thinks it will benefit the university and the Orangeburg area. It could be a vibrant, progressive project that would bring positive national and international attention to the university, he said.
And he's not alarmed by some of the setbacks, including losing the federal transportation center grant and designation. He thinks the university could land another grant once the new building is complete.
Pinson, Washington and Byrd said the board wasn't informed in 2006 that the university failed in a competitive process to land another federal University Transportation Center grant. The school's program was allowed to spend leftover grant money until December 2009, after which it lost its designation as a University Transportation Center.
But an internal university memo obtained by The Post and Courier shows that former President Andrew Hugine and Clyburn were informed that the school failed to land another grant, which led to losing the federal designation.
Reinhardt Brown, a former interim director of the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center, sent the memo to current President George Cooper on March 12, 2009. Brown was responding to an inquiry from Cooper on the university's failure to land another transportation grant. Brown stated in the memo that he prepared a report on the failed reauthorization and it was provided to Hugine, Clyburn and Leona Adams, another former interim executive director of the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center.
Brown, who was subsequently removed as the center's interim executive director, has filed a lawsuit against Cooper and board member Robert Nance, alleging they knowingly made false statements about him that implied he was incompetent, and engaged in a civil conspiracy against him.
Pinson also said the board hasn't been told why university officials plan in the new complex's first phase to build a maintenance facility to service buses for the Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority. The authority's executive director, Ann August, told The Post and Courier that the new building will include the maintenance facility.
Pinson said he doesn't know what kind of preliminary plans university administrators are working on. But the board would not approve a final plan for only a simple maintenance facility.
"That just won't fly," he said. "We want a world-class research facility."