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TMCNet:  Alabama State University: Silver sent emails firing Knight, questioning contracts

[November 30, 2012]

Alabama State University: Silver sent emails firing Knight, questioning contracts

Nov 30, 2012 (Montgomery Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Alabama State University President Joseph Silver attempted to fire two top administrators by email using his iPhone just before he was placed on administrative leave Monday and, in an email to the university community last Friday, indicated that he had discovered questionable contracts and dictating that no one else had authority to enter into contracts.


"Unfortunately, in my short time here, I am discovering contracts for services and 'no one' seems to have any definitive answers as to why and how these contracts came into existence," Silver wrote in the email with the subject "Contracts" that he sent to the ASU email list at almost 9 p.m. Friday. Silver has served as president for about two months.

At 5:38 p.m. Monday, Silver sent emails terminating executive vice president John Knight and Danielle Kennedy, vice president of university relations, just before a panel of ASU board members went into a closed session to discuss Silver.

Silver, who could hear his fate from university trustees today, sent the emails terminating Knight and Kennedy for "cause and insubordination effective immediately" after the 5:30 p.m. board meeting was scheduled to begin, but before board Chairman Elton Dean began the meeting at 5:40 p.m. The executive committee of the board went into closed session for about 25 minutes before publicly voting to place Silver on paid administrative leave and placing Knight in charge of daily operations.

The full board, including Gov. Robert Bentley, will meet at 10 a.m. today in the board room of the Dunn-Oliver Acadome to discuss Silver's fate.

Contracts Silver wrote in his Friday email to the ASU community that, effective immediately, "no contract for services should be renewed or any new contracts entered into until university counsel has reviewed them and made recommendation to me as to legal form and sufficiency. Additionally, no contract will be approved if there is not a clear and distinct deliverable to the university within a defined time period." Silver also advised those at the university "that if you sign a contract that has not been vetted as described above, the contract will not be honored and you will be held personally responsible for any item or cost associated with the contact." Silver wrote in the email obtained by the Montgomery Advertiser that until he had a handle on the matter, "I will not appoint a designee to act on my behalf." "In a period of tight budgets and no raises for faculty and staff over the last several years, I cannot and will not allow this university to enter into a contract where there is no clear benefit to the university or if the deliverable is not clearly spelled out," he wrote.

Silver has since argued that he was placed on administrative leave for alerting officials at ASU to wrongdoing and then refusing to back off. He said he would not be part of a cover up. The president said Wednesday that he "discovered some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least" while reviewing finances and contracts for the university.

"We never did stop him from doing what he wanted to do with contracts," Dean said Wednesday. "... We never did say he couldn't." Top university officials, including Dean and Knight, have said Silver did not alert them to possible wrongdoing.

Silver indicated in an Oct. 24 "President's Report" to trustees that he had concerns about contracts.

He wrote that he had "spent time reviewing contracts that various university staff have entered into on behalf of the university." "This is one of the risks that has surfaced during our risk assessment," Silver wrote. "There are long-standing contracts in which the deliverables are not readily seen and accountability has not been demanded. There is much more to learn and address as it relates to contracts." He recommended an "outside, independent audit be conducted of all of our contracts to determine whether or not any policies have been violated, whether or not there were deliverables and whether or not there was institutional value in the contractual relationships." Silver did not reference any specific contracts.

Dean said Wednesday that the contracts issue was just one part of Silver's report and was included with a number of other issues.

Terminations In his Monday email to Knight, Silver wrote "As president of Alabama State University, I am terminating you as executive vice president, for cause and insubordination, effective immediately." In his email to Kennedy, Silver wrote "I am terminating you as vice president for university for cause and insubordination effective immediately." "Please note that these emails do not meet state and federal due process requirements for a cause termination," ASU general counsel Kenneth Thomas wrote in a memo to the Advertiser. "Further, these emails are not considered to be official notices pursuant to the Alabama State University ('ASU') Policies and Procedures Manual and the pattern and practice of ASU." Thomas wrote that the emails were sent from Silver's iPhone during the executive committee meeting in which he was placed on leave. Although since the meeting did not start until 5:40 p.m. the emails were actually sent just before the meeting.

Knight said Tuesday that Silver had not talked to him about his termination and said "I have not received a letter from Dr. Silver." Silver, before trustees arrived late and began the meeting, sat at the board table and worked on his phone and tablet.

He was not in the executive session and paced in the hall outside of the meeting while the committee members met.

After he was placed on leave, Silver told reporters that Knight could not assume his duties because "I fired him earlier today." The university released the documents to the media following a request from the Montgomery Advertiser.

By looking at the emails released Thursday, Silver appears to have sent the emails with the subject "Termination" from his iPhone.

Silver copied the emails to Carmen Douglas, vice president in the office of human resources.

Silver signed the termination emails "Peace be with you." Origin Silver said Monday that he believed the action came about because of what he was discovering concerning ASU finances.

He said it was because he "began to get close to something," "stumbled on something," was close to some "long-standing bones," and "there is nothing that should have caused that action today except for I stepped on a few toes." "I was placed on administrative leave because I raised a few probing questions, and I refused to go along to get along," Silver said Wednesday.

"I think they know there is no reason for me to step down other than the fact that I have raised a few questions about how resources are spent here, and it is not all for students," Silver said Monday to students after he was placed on leave.

Dean and Knight said the university does not have anything to hide and that they do not know what Silver is referring to in his accusations. They have declined to reveal why Silver was placed on administrative leave.

Knight said the allegations were "wild" and unfounded.

___ (c)2012 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) Visit the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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