Wright State University has paid $309,750 to an independent auditing firm to review its practices amid a federal immigration probe and other ongoing controversies, but says it will not make the audit’s findings public.
Wright State says the details of Plante Moran’s work are not subject to Ohio public records laws because the firm was subcontracted through the law firm Dinsmore and Shohl, therefore the audit falls under attorney-client privilege.
The university repeatedly has denied requests for a copy of the firm’s findings, beginning with a written denial in October: “(They) are privileged and the university has no plans to share them publicly at this time,” WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess wrote in response to a request for the records under Ohio public records law.
This newspaper later followed up with a request for records on how much Plante Moran was paid. That information was received this week.
Plante Moran, a certified public accounting and business advisory firm based in Michigan, was paid for work done in 2015 with five checks from WSU, cut between September and January.
Dinsmore has billed the university another $108,000 this fiscal year under a pair of contracts for “immigration matters” and “legal advice and services related to internal investigations.”
“Every organization can find ways to do things better and those of us who love and support Wright State know that our university is no different,” WSU Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Bridges said when he announced the hiring of the CPA firm in June. “We look forward to detailed and aggressive recommendations from the outside accounting professionals at Plante Moran to help us make the best possible strategic decisions for our university.”
The work by the two companies is related to an ongoing federal investigation into possible violations of immigration law, which led to several top university officials being suspended, fired or forced to retire.
“Plante Moran was hired by our own attorneys so we can identify areas of improvement and compliance so issues like this are less likely to occur again,” said Bauguess when the immigration investigation became public in August. “They are making observations about our operations that are being provided to help us.”
This newspaper in the past several months has revealed other issues including WSU paying nearly $1 million to a consultant in 2014 without a written contract for work. State officials are investigating the possibility of improper lobbying.
State Rep. Mike Duffey, chair of the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education, said the consultant issues particularly raise myriad questions the public deserves to see answered, if possible.
“I think the public deserves the right to know most of it,” said the Worthington Republican. “And if they want to shield something, they need to come up with a reason why.”
Duffey also expressed concern with the practice of funneling work through a law firm to avoid publicly disclosing the terms.
“It certainly seems questionable,” he said. “Otherwise anyone could shelter any contract across the state of Ohio by using an intermediary.”
Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said there are legitimate reasons in state law to exempt from public record the discussion between public officials and their attorneys. But he said this appears to stretch the rule.
“It certainly would appear that the intent was to end-run the law by keeping a report that would clearly be in the public interest a secret,” he said.