Eac President Faces Probe

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Eastern Arizona College President Mark Bryce improperly borrowed more than $7,000 from the college for personal travel expenses, including spa treatments, movies and meals for his wife and children, according to a new report from the auditor general.

The report also found that Bryce spent more than $16,000 in violation of district policies, which included $4,000 on local meals for himself and others, which the auditor said may constitute a gift of public monies.

Bryce failed to produce line-item receipts for more than $13,000 in charges and exceeded per diem allowances for lodging 67 times.

EAC runs Gila Community College, and Gila County taxpayers pay a 25 percent overhead fee on all expenditures — more than $1 million annually.

The auditor general studied Bryce’s travel expenses and card transactions from January 2003 to October 2008 after receiving a complaint in October 2008 that Bryce was using public money to pay for personal expenses.

Bryce could not be reached for comment because EAC was on spring break and the voice mailbox at the number listed for him in the telephone book was full.

However, the Eastern Arizona Courier reported Bryce said he did nothing wrong.

Although the auditor general’s report states that EAC’s policy prohibits paying for meals with college credit cards, the Courier quotes Bryce as saying that no such policy exists.

Instead, EAC has guidelines meant to prohibit “certain employees, such as maintenance workers, from using a college credit card to buy groceries on the way to a hardware store to buy parts,” the story states.

According to the auditor general report, EAC reimburses for meals when employees travel more than 35 miles away. For charged purchases, card users must provide line-item receipts, which Bryce failed to do for 150 transactions out the 600 purchases during the review period.

“This missing or incomplete documentation makes it difficult and in some cases impossible to determine whether a purchase was a valid, business-related expense allowed by district policy,” the report states.

For example, EAC policy allows employees to exceed lodging rate limits in special instances, but requires documentation. On the 67 hotel stays in question, Bryce exceeded the rate limit by $8 to $192 per night, but provided no justification.

Bryce also borrowed $7,400 from the college for personal travel expenses including airfare for family members, gift shop merchandise and spa services on college credit cards. He then repaid the debt in anywhere from two to 151 days, the report said.

Instead of immediately paying the bill, Bryce would wait until he incurred enough mileage expenses to cancel out the debt. When accumulated expenses fell short of the money Bryce owed, he would then pay off the debt.

Bryce told the Courier he promptly paid when asked.

The report concluded the college allowed Bryce to pay personal travel expenses with an interest-free loan, which violates both district policy and the Arizona Constitution.

A representative from the auditor general’s office was not available for comment.

The report singles out one trip in May 2007, when Bryce used the district credit card to buy his wife a plane ticket to California. During the trip, Bryce charged $1,300 on the college’s credit card, including three extra nights at the hotel, rental car use, an in-room movie and spa services.

Some 85 days later, Bryce had incurred enough “valid, business-related expenses to offset this personal debt,” said the report.

Ultimately, the auditor recommended that EAC stop loaning credit and money to Bryce and ensure appropriate documentation accompany expense reports. It also advised a halt to paying for expenses exceeding limits.

Earlier this month, EAC’s governing board clarified its business expense policy in a resolution. The measure authorizes executive-level employees to buy meals and “incidentals” as they “travel or otherwise carry out district business.”

The resolution also allows executive-level employees to authorize other employees to do the same. The board also included a reminder that employees must keep receipts to justify expenses.

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