Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More On IU Jobs Program For Legislators

The Gary Post-Tribune picks up on the AP report on a recently released internal audit concerning the troubling circumstances surrounding the hiring of two Democratic lawmakers by IU. The Star first ran the story in its online edition yesterday. However, the story first ran in the Bloomington Herald-Times as a story written by Steve Hinnefield, who the AP did not credit for the story. Because it is a subscriber only-paper, we cannot offer a link to the Herald-Times story.

The Post-Tribune's Sharlonda Waterhouse openly questions in her story "whether [Rep. John Aguilera's] former employment with Indiana University Labor Studies division included lobbying favors." While Aguilera declined to offer Waterhouse a comment for the story, she writes that the comments we quoted in our report yesterday from IU's Charles Davis "suggests favors were expected". Quoting in full Davis' comment, Waterhouse says:

The university audit quotes ex-division head Charles Davis telling staff about why he hired Aguilera and State Rep. Ron Liggett, paying them each over $65,000 in 2004 to snag state grants through the Incumbent Workers Training Fund.

“When you look at the cost benefit analysis of this kind of work and the political nature and the potential risk we face at the next budgetary session of the legislature it benefits us to have people who are close to us, and friends of ours in the legislature ... we may have lost sixty some thousand, but that is better than losing $358,000 in a line item. (Aguilera) sits on the Ways and Means Committee ... It still might not be the right decision ... It is very complex ... You have to consider other factors as well ... If it is the fiscally prudent thing to do.”

The Post-Tribune obtained copies of Aguilera's W-2 forms showing that IU paid Aguilera a total of $88,061, including $22,228 in 2003 and $65,833 in 2004. "In addition to their work pay, each also got 25 hours of paid vacation time," Waterhouse says. She also reports on other irregularities uncovered by the audit. One of the legislators charged the university $3,000 for 15 months of cell phone use. Also, one of the legislators may have received $1,268 in "unallowable travel expenses."

The circumtances surrounding the two lawmakers' initial hiring is also brought to light in the Post-Tribune story. According to the audit report, IU's Davis "felt caught between 'a rock and a hard place' because he was asked to hire the legislators by a top union leader: 'When the President of the (union name removed in transcript) comes to me and says we’d like you to do this and here are a couple of people I’d like you to consider to hire, I have to take that very seriously.' When Davis' comments found their way into the audit report, Davis took issue with the report's characterization of his comments. In a rebuttal he insisted they were "taken out of context", but the audit still concluded his comments gave the hirings "the appearance of impropriety."

Frequent readers of Advance Indiana know that we have been highly critical of Ivy Tech's hiring of four legislators. Not surprisingly, Davis relied on Ivy Tech's practices in defense of his hiring of Aguilera and Liggett. He told the staff he based the lawmakers' salary on what other legislators were paid by Ivy Tech. The Post-Tribune added about the Ivy Tech hirings:

It is not unusual for universities to employ legislators. Ivy Tech and Indiana University both employ four. The Ivy Tech positions held by Sen. Bob Garton and state Reps. Pat Bauer, Craig Fry and Bill Crawford are all administrative, salaried positions and not part-time hourly as were the positions of Liggett and Aguilera.

Ivy Tech was quick to defend their hiring of four lawmakers:

Jeff Terp, director of external affairs for Ivy Tech, said their legislator-employees “take official leaves of absence during the legislative session. They are not compensated nor do they receive any benefits. It’s a complete separation, complete hands-off relationship.

“There’s no comparison (to the IUPUI matter). These legislators provide a very valuable service. They have job descriptions and have been under scrutiny. They are not hired to influence the legislative process or budget process on behalf of Ivy Tech. Never. To draw any comparison is erroneous ... false and misleading,” Terp said, adding that they are the lowest funded college system in the state.

Adding to the absurdity of Aguilera's and Liggett's hiring, IU was unable to provide job descriptions for the two lawmakers, even though the two's employment ended in November, 2004, and their hirings have been the subject of an extensive internal investigation. It's also curious that IU described the two's jobs as "part-time hourly positions." It is hard to argue to the average Hoosier that a job that pays $65,000 a year is a part-time position.

The audit report contained even more damaging conclusions. "We are uncertain that the legislators worked all of the hours for which they were paid,” the report states. The possibility of ghost payrolling could not be ruled out by the audit.

So when does the criminal investigation begin?

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