NIU misspent $100,000

By Louise M. Koryta and Mike Solley

Lack of fiscal review by the NIU Physical Plant led to cost overruns during the remodeling of former NIU president Clyde Wingfield’s house, according to a report by the Illinois Auditor General.

The report, released Wednesday, indicated NIU misspent thousands of dollars for the remodeling. The total cost for remodeling, refurnishing and renovation of the house was estimated to be more than $100,000, the report stated.

Lyle Manock, auditing manager for the auditor general, said review of the projects while they were in progress would have prevented cost overruns. The report stated NIU did not require cost estimates by the Physical Plant for the remodeling project.

“They (the Physical Plant) don’t have a system to deter costs. A good plan would have prevented it (overspending) from happening,” Manock said. For instance, 80 percent of the interior of the house was repainted three times due to changes in plans, he added. The cost of repainting was estimated to be more than $18,000.

In addition, Manock said work orders for labor and material were not checked regularly, he said. “In general, there is no system to regulate the review of work orders,” Manock added.

Conrad Miller was assistant director of the physical plant during the presidential home remodeling. Miller said the work was done by the Physical Plant because “we were responding to the university (priorities) at the time by doing what work had to be done.” The remodeling procedure was “probably not followed as closely as it is today,” Miller said.

“NIU has a remodeling request form,” Miller said. He said the form is used for all projects to describe the project and its costs. “Today, we are much more cautious” about following what is going on, he said.

The report also stated NIU needs to adopt more controls within its departments to govern large projects. Miller said he believes NIU has “a good system” with the request forms “to prevent (something like the Wingfield episode) from happening in the future.”

Physical Plant Director John Harrod said he has not had a chance to review all the facts concerning the remodeling. “I am interested in seeing whether state and university regulations were followed,” he said.

State Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, said the results of the report validate his claims of financial discrepancies concerning the Wingfield house. “The (NIU) budget is now under more scrutiny by the legislature than in the past,” Welch said. The houses for all state university presidents now are examined more closely as a result of the Wingfield episode, he said.

Another concern of the report was that NIU does not restrict computer access to budget information, leaving open the possibility for fraud. Manock said the university is lucky no such fraud has occurred yet.

The report also indicated NIU violated the State Finance Act by allowing the NIU Foundation to retain revenue from the sale of football skybox tickets. The act requires all but certain exempt funds to be deposited in the state treasury, Manock said. “Skybox ticket money is not exempt,” he said.

Northern Star Adviser Jerry Thompson said the auditor general’s report “vindicates us from charges made by some people that the Star was sensationalizing and being unfair.” “The report legitimizes the hard work that went into uncovering the whole thing,” he said.

Northern Star articles appeared during the spring of 1986 which revealed the costs for the renovation and furnishing of the presidential home and the presidential inauguration.

Mary Dunne, secretary for the Legislative Audit Commission, a board of six state representatives and six state senators, said the group will schedule a hearing to review the report at its next meeting.