Legislators voted Friday to accept an audit of the University of Arkansas' fundraising division without hearing testimony that had been expected from the division's former chief Brad Choate and budget officer Joy Sharp.
The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee heard brief comments from UA trustee John Goodson at the beginning of a second round of a hearing into the division's multimillion-dollar deficit. Then, state Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, motioned for the committee to accept the report, effectively concluding the legislative investigation.
Legislators voted 21-13 to accept the report and Sample objected to a proposal from Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, that the body continue its questioning even after accepting the report.
Afterward, Choate said he had revealing information to tell the committee that he isn't allowed to divulge in other settings because of a legal agreement reached when he left the university in the aftermath of the controversy.
"It's a shame," Choate said afterward. "It's a shame not to get all the facts out there. It's a real whitewash."
The meeting came a day after a prosecutor released a report finding no criminal wrongdoing in the division. Sample noted that report found that the funds in the deficit were "valid expenditures" and no fraud had been committed.
"Why do we refer this to a prosecuting attorney and not accept their findings?" he asked members shortly before the vote. "Members, we are wasting the taxpayer dollars. We asked the prosecuting attorney to do a job. He involved the FBI in his investigation. He came back with these results. Let us accept them, move on and get on with the job we're here to do."
Hammer, who initially ruled in a voice vote that the panel had voted not to accept the report before a voice vote was called, asked members to vote no because he said the meeting was an "honest format" to have the topic fully discussed. He said it was necessary to address what had become a "cloud" over the university.
"I'd just as soon let the storm move through myself if it's coming," he said before the vote.
Choate spoke after the meeting about his disappointment in not being allowed to testify, calling it "shocking."
"This stifled getting all the facts out," he said. "It's a shame. It's a real travesty. I can't imagine not wanting to hear all facts. I mean that was a move to keep things quiet … I'm not even arguing all the facts. At least put all the facts on the table."
The university blamed Choate for failing to effectively oversee the Division of University Advancement's finances and Sharp for making accounting errors tied to work overload. UA said that led to the fiscal 2012 deficit of more than $4 million.
Both Choate and Sharp were reassigned and later lost their jobs over the deficit controversy.
Goodson told the legislators that the university is making the improvements legislators asked for in the audit report.
"The board of trustees, and me in particular, have heard you all loud and clear," he said. "We are in the process of implementing every recommendation ... As a result of that, the University of Arkansas Fayetteville campus is a better institution."
Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full coverage.