Don’t abandon audit of U of L foundation

When Mike Harmon takes over as Kentucky’s auditor of public accounts next month, one of the things waiting in the office will be the unfinished examination of the murky workings of the University of Louisville Foundation and its relationship to the board of trustees that ostensibly oversees the school.

It will be up to Harmon, who last month defeated Adam Edelen in his bid for reelection, to decide whether to continue that work.

He should.

The decision to examine the foundation grew out of news reports earlier this year by Louisville media about salary supplements, perks and backdated deferred compensation grants by the foundation to top U of L employees, including President James Ramsey, who is also president of the foundation. Although there is cross-membership between the boards, the foundation is not overseen by the U of L board of trustees.

Some members of the U of L board of trustees said at the time that they weren’t fully informed about the foundation payments, which were often made with limited documentation. That left trustees approving salaries for Ramsey and other executives without fulling understanding the total compensation package. The foundation has also awarded a $120,000-a-year contract to a former board member without seeking bids or getting approval from its board.

The U of L foundation, a non-profit that controls about $1.1 billion, operated in great secrecy until 2008 when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that its records are public documents.

It’s troubling that the foundation still seems to operate as if it is not fully accountable to the university’s own board of trustees, much less to the university community or the public. Harmon would do well to continue the work of laying clear the relationship between this rich and powerful foundation and one of Kentucky’s leading public universities.

The foundation is not the only cloud on U of L’s integrity, nor the auditor the only body investigating questionable activity there.

Recently, Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal of Louisville reported that two high-ranking and highly paid U of L health affairs employees were placed on leave after the university confirmed federal investigators are examining their role in a for-profit company they operated from the university. A third person, a former employee, is also under investigation.

U of L says the investigation has been underway since summer of 2014 but the two — David Dunn and Priscilla Hancock — were placed on leave only after the CJ reported on the investigation.

Dunn is paid $804,024 to oversee, among other entities, the medical school where his wife, Kelli, works in the dean’s office. Kelli Bullard Dunn, trained as a surgeon, has not performed surgery at U of L but is paid $310,000 a year as dean for community engagement and diversity. A similar post at the University of Kentucky, Wolfson reported, pays $66,435.

Both Ramsey and U of L trustees complain that media reports of these and other recent problems focus on the negative while ignoring the teaching and research accomplishments at the school.

It’s a lame response to legitimate questions about an important public institution. U of L’s leaders would serve their institution better by insisting on ethical, transparent governance.