UCSF refuses to release outside review of its finances;

Published on

The San Francisco Chronicle (California)

San Francisco, CA — The University of California at San Francisco has refused to release an independent review of its finances, citing objections of the accounting firm that conducted the work.

UCSF officials last month said that the independent report, as well as two internal reviews, found “no evidence” of financial irregularities as alleged by former medical school Dean David Kessler after he was fired Dec. 13.

In response Tuesday to a Public Records Act request by The Chronicle, UCSF officials released information from two internal reviews, but declined to release the independent financial review or the name of the firm hired by the university for $165,000 to carry it out.

UCSF spokeswoman Corinna Kaarlela said the contract does not allow UCSF to release that information without permission of the firm, and the accounting firm has yet to grant it.

Citing similar objections from the accounting firm, UCSF also refused to provide a copy of the contract itself.

“This is standard practice for auditing firms to request that they must be asked to give permission for the document to be released,” she said. “We are trying to obtain that permission.”

Reached Tuesday, Kessler said he wants the independent report released. “It is essential,” he said.

Kessler contends he had been asking for a thorough, independent audit of the School of Medicine’s finances ever since he discovered in December 2004 that the amount of money available for his office was about $20 million less per year than he was shown when he took the job in June 2003.

Although he became aware than an independent financial review was under way, he said he does not know what questions the private auditors are asking. Nor has he seen the results.

“I asked to see it, and was told I could not,” he said.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored a new law to require the University of California to be more open to the public, said UC should release the documents immediately.

“They are the ones receiving the services,” he said. “If they want to give out the audit, they can. They are the holder of it because they purchased it.”

A number of consumer advocates and experts in public records law agreed.

“It is an absolutely outrageous, high-handed abuse of the public’s right to know what is going on with its money,” said John Simpson, of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. He said the public has a right to see the documents and know the terms of the contract.

Peter Scheer, a lawyer and executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition in San Francisco, said it is common for private consulting firms to require confidentiality to protect what they consider proprietary techniques or trade secrets. It often costs more, he said, to retain the services of a firm without that secrecy requirement. However, he contends that does not release a public agency from state public access laws.

“The mere fact that they have agreed to that isn’t the end of the matter. It is possible that that promise is simply one that they cannot keep,” Scheer said.

However, he said, the university is in a bind if they do release the documents without the firm’s consent, because it may then be sued for breach of contract by that company.

Among the documents released by UCSF was a report by the University of California Office of the President that repudiated allegations against Kessler made by an anonymous whistle-blower in January 2005. Although the university publicly cleared Kessler of any improprieties in a July 23, 2007, statement to the press, Kessler has since disclosed that Chancellor Michael Bishop had asked for his resignation a month earlier, and that he had refused to quit.

When the report was released by UCSF last year, more than nine of its 13 pages were redacted — or blanked out — by university lawyers. At the time, a university spokesman said the information was left out because they concerned allegations about “the conduct of an individual, or individuals,” as opposed to that of the institution.

The re-release of that document Tuesday, however, contains two pages discussing allegations by Kessler “of inaccuracies and inconsistencies” in financial records — information about the ongoing dispute between the dean and
chancellor that would not be revealed publicly until Kessler was fired.

According to the newly released report, Kessler’s allegation that he was “intentionally misled regarding the revenues available to him for discretionary spending” was not sustained.

However, the report acknowledged that the “data reviewed also evidenced a lack of clarity as to what it represented, was not always consistently prepared or well documented… and changes in preparation methodology over time were not fully explained.”

The review concluded: “It is certainly possible that the Dean’s interpretation of the information provided led him to an expectation as to available resources that differed from what was intended.”

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