Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lies at the University of Arkansas: Chancellor Gearhart's water gets hotter

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 7:42 AM

CHANCELLOR GEARHART: His sworn testimony contradicted by multiple accounts.
  • CHANCELLOR GEARHART: His sworn testimony contradicted by multiple accounts.
Evidence has long been overwhelming that Chancellor David Gearhart and the University of Arkansas propaganda apparatus have been, at least, disingenuous in response to the financial disaster in the Advancement Division and fired spokesman John Diamond's assertion that Gearhart was resistant to transparency about university affairs.

The evidence continues to pile up. After reading the account in the Democrat-Gazette this morning of further details from the case filed produced by Fayetteville Prosecutor David Bercaw, I'd say this:

Dave Gearhart best be happy Kenneth Starr isn't on his case. He'd have been frogmarched before a Grand Jury yesterday.

It does look like Pulaski Prosecutor Larry Jegley has another matter for that Grand Jury he wants to call to consider a variety of state issues, including expense account cheat Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. Bercaw, while finding no law violations in actions in Fayetteville, said testimony in Little Rock by Gearhart was a subject for another prosecutorial office, not the homeboys in Fetvul.

Sept. 13, Gearhart told Legislative Audit, under oath, “I have never said to anybody that they should destroy documents. "

In the recent prosecutor's review, according to the D-G account:

*  Nov. 7, "Associate Vice Chancellor Graham Stewart said finance officer Denise Reynolds handed out a “one sheet budget document” at the Jan. 14 meeting and Diamond “brought up responding to the press.”

"Gearhart “got irritated” and “slammed his hands down,” Stewart said, according to the prosecutor’s interview notes.

"Gearhart went on to say, “Why do we have these documents? Get rid of them."

(Stewart's testimony perhaps explains why the announcement of his recent hiring at Vanderbilt got a curt and unappreciative sendoff from Brother Honky Chris Wyrick, now the Advancement boss, in a staff e-mail this week.)

* Former Associate Vice Chancellor for Development Bruce Pontious told an identical story. He quoted Gearhart as saying, "Why do you still have these documents? …  “Get rid of them.”

This precisely parallels an account fired Advancement chief Brad Choate gave in a prepared statement he was not allowed to give to Joint Audit, thanks in part to behind-the-scenes manipulation by UA officials before the meeting last week.

You asked John {Diamond] about the January 14, 2013 meeting that included my former staff reports and the Chancellor. I was still working in my office that day and within 60 seconds of that meeting ending both Laura Villines and Denise Reynolds came back to the office and their eyes were wide open. Obviously something significant had occurred. They told me, and Stephanie McGuire, who was a secretary in our office at the time, that Dave had pitched a major fit. That he had used very foul language with reference to me; that he had pushed a stack of budget sheets Denise had prepared back at her and told her to, quote, “get rid of these and stop putting budget information on paper”. Later that night Bruce Pontious told me the same story; the next day Graham Stewart told me the same story; a few days later John Diamond confirmed the story when I asked him about it, and a few days after that Kris Macechko told me the same story. All of them were in that meeting. Some of them also shared what happened with other colleagues. There is no doubt whatsoever what occurred. And then Dave cancelled the weekly meetings of that leadership group altogether, even though he was the acting leader of the division and the division had major financial issues that needed to be resolved.

Diamond, of course, is long on the record. Macechko didn't give prosecutors a specific quote from Gearhart, but she did say, “Diamond felt that more information was needed. Gearhart felt all that was necessary had been given.”

The coverup, as usual, is the crime, at least metaphorically, and it is not too soon to question whether Gearhart's leadership has now been irretrievably damaged. Sadly, and almost unbelievably, the UA powers, from the Board of Trustees on down, are circling the wagons unapologetically around Gearhart.

Why? Greenbacks. He's a money raiser and viewed as particularly powerful with the pipeline of Walton money that now sets the political agenda of various UA departments (see school reform, particularly). As long as the suits support Gearhart, he'll be defended until the end by all the high-paid factotums at UA.

Could a perjury indictment change that? It's not beyond the realm to speculate. More testimony is coming in the legislature. And, in the face of the ongoing embarrassment, we're still expected to endure parsing and wordplay by university officials.

Yesterday, UA spokesman Ben Beaumont and UAF spokesman Mark Rushing endeavored in response to the D-G findings to explain the contradictory statements and the evidence that, indeed, budget documents were among the papers destroyed in division paper shredding. The alibi now seems to be that what Gearhart meant to say was that he had never destroyed a document subject to a specific FOI request. NOT that he had never suggested that documents be destroyed. 

That's a decidedly different tune from his Audit testimony, in which Gearhart seemed to say unequivocally: "I never had shredding with those documents." Maybe it depends on what the definition of never is.

The firebrand Tea Party contingent in the legislature that is forcing a continuing close examination of this, despite immense pressure from one of the state's most powerful political lobbies, deserves a medal. They may not get free football tickets and free parking at the UA in the future, however.

CORRECTION: It was Lisa Hammersly who wrote for D-G about prosecutorial files. Bill Bowden was at work on discrepancies in legislative testimony of key Gearhart enabler Don Pederson, the UA chief financial offficer, who's also accused of lying to auditors by disavowing knowledge of financial problems by then known on campus.

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