Two Months Later, College Budget Still A Mystery

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Tuition revenues are being deposited and teachers are being paid at Gila County Community College.

Yet board of governors members, Dick Wolfe and Larry Stephenson, have seen just a single-page summary of the approved $3.4-million budget for 2006.

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College governing board member Dick Wolfe.

"When I worked for the state (as director of the Department of Building and Fire Safety) my budget was like an inch thick," said Wolfe.

Wolfe said he is appalled at the inadequacy of Eastern Arizona College's budget documentation -- administrative breakdowns he requested in May, as a private citizen, before he was ever appointed to the board.

Four of the five-member board of governors met June 22 at a special session to vote on the one-page budget.

Stephenson's was the only dissenting vote. Newly appointed board member Wolfe was attending a meeting in California, and was unable to cast his vote.

Boards in Arizona are governed by the open meeting law, which states any matter brought before the board for a vote can be passed by a simple majority.

Wolfe said a special meeting or any meeting, for that matter, can be held legally with a "quorum," or a majority, in this case, of three members.

"Member Stephenson asked that the minutes note that he found this budgetary process to be an embarrassment to GCC and the district, and that it provided evidence that professional staff was need to guide the BOG (board of governors)," reported the official minutes of that meeting.

For Wolfe and Stephenson the budget issue is not dead.

"I sent two e-mails to Margot Bracamonte (EAC Senior Dean, based in Globe) again requesting information and she did not respond (with the requested documents)," Wolfe said. "So then I finally filed a public records request for this information."

That was July 11, 2005. Ten days later they received a response, not from Bracamonte or EAC president Mark Bryce, but from Phoenix law firm Lewis and Roca.

The letter stated, "a public entity, such as the college, has a ‘reasonable' time in which to comply with any request... Eastern Arizona College intends to fully comply with all of its legal obligations under the public records law. To that end, the college will immediately begin to compile all documents that are responsive to your request."

"It's a very, very strange situation that has occurred here," said Wolfe.

"The crazy thing is that I'm responsible for going over the budget as a board member and they won't give it to me; I have to pay to see it."

Total projected revenues listed on the summary page of the budget are EAC contract contributions, EAC collected tuition at 875 FTSE (Full-Time Student Equivalency), scholarships for Gila students and Gila County Funding Support for the Small Business Development Center.

Missing from the line items on the budget summary are tax levies that EAC will receive from Gila County property taxes.

According to Arizona revised Statues 15-1461 (2004), the amounts of these tax levies are information the proposed budget "shall" contain.

In 2004, residents of Gila County approved a 62-cent tax based on $100 of valuation -- an estimated $2.2 million a year -- for the provisional community college district.

The July 11 Lewis and Roca letter also informed Wolfe and Stephenson that once the documents were compiled, they had the option of viewing them at a "mutually convenient time and location." If Wolfe or Stephenson had copies made, they, not EAC would bear the cost of "reasonable copy charges" prior to shipping the documents.

A month after the original missive, Wolfe received another letter from Lewis and Roca Aug. 10. The letter said several hundred pages of financial documents were available to him at a price of 20 to 25 cents per page -- more for oversized and computer-generated documents.

Wolfe said he'll view and copy the documents, and has responded to Lewis and Roca of his intentions. In his response, he pointed out that by Arizona Revised Statutes, these are documents the college should have provided him anyway.

According to Acting Chairman Robert Ashford, the income source for the 25-percent overhead charged on all expenditures is irrelevant.

Stephenson disagreed, saying Ashford's opinion is another reason he wants to see the breakdown of the budget.

Ashford and Bracamonte could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Payson Campus Dean Harry Swanson copied and handed out 20, 31-page documents to prospective nursing students Thursday evening. The sheaf of papers, thicker than than those requested by Wolfe and Stephenson, described the nursing program that will be offered at Gila Community College in the spring of 2006.

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