WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Two weeks after WECT broke a story about the State Auditor’s concerns over Cape Fear Community College’s travel policy, the college has released its travel expense reports.
Records confirm trustees spent approximately $7,000 over the past three years, as CFCC officials initially reported in defense of their policy after the state auditor said it lacked checks and balances to stop wasteful spending. While the trustees' travel expenses were relatively insignificant, records also show that CFCC President Jim Morton spent more on travel than all the trustees combined during the same time frame.
According to a spreadsheet provided by the college, travel expenses by trustees have been limited in the past several years, with the exception of a trip to a Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. in February 2018. Records show Trustee Jimmy Hopkins spent $2,212 on that trip. Fellow board members William Turner and Ann David also attended, spending $2,078 and $771, respectively. Conference registration alone for the trip was $771. David did not seek reimbursement for any other expenses she incurred on the trip. Her fellow board members' other expenses were primarily spent on lodging.
President Jim Morton attended the same Washington conference at the expense of $2,300 in public money. In large part due to COVID-19, Morton and the trustees have not done any travel since January 2020, but in the year leading up to that, Morton spent nearly $5,000 attending various conferences, seminars and meetings. Most of those were in North Carolina, but Morton also took a trip to Houston, Texas for the The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Conference that cost $1,609, and he traveled to San Jose, Calif. for an Apple meeting that cost just over $1,000.
In addition to the more expensive trips, Morton has traveled within the state for a number of North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents meetings that cost on average a few hundred dollars each. The trustees have also attended meetings put on by the North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees that cost the public between $300 - $600 each time depending on the meeting location.
Travel by public officials can be a hot button issue, since the costs are covered with public money. In deference to tax payers who are footing the bill, some elected officials have caps on their annual spending to keep costs under control. For example, New Hanover County commissioners cannot spend more than $2,000 a year on travel. The most recent budget for the City of Wilmington allotted just $4,150 per year per council member for travel.
WECT first raised questions about travel expenses after learning CFCC trustees had recently voted in favor of “blanket travel approval” for the college president and trustees. The state auditor said travel by college administrators should be approved on an individual basis to ensure it’s in keeping with the mission of the college, and that blanket pre-approval defeats that purpose.
After being questioned about the policy, CFCC Board Chair Pat Kusek agreed the wording is confusing and needs to be clarified. Even though the recently approved policy appears to rubber stamp travel expenses by the president and trustees, Kusek said another Board of Trustee policy (and Jim Morton’s contract) require the Board Chair to approve travel.