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Food Services Audit Reveals Inappropriate Actions

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Monday's audit of Texas A&M's Food Services has the university searching for answers and resolutions.

Joe Powell, who oversees food services, said he was unavailable for an on-camera interview due to all-day meetings on department matters, but did conduct a phone interview. "I take any report from the system and especially from the auditor as serious, and we will address each area," Powell said. He noted that he was still reviewing the latest audit.

According to the audit, the allegations of misuse of resources were comprised of 21 separate issues, categorized as misuse of resources, theft of inventory and cash, and sexually inappropriate behavior. Through 183 interviews (or 90 percent of 12-month employees), the auditor determined the environment of the department was "not conducive to open communication, new ideas, or change."

Five individuals are cited specifically: the director of the department, Ronald Beard; the assistant director; the MSC catering and cafeteria managers; and the Alumni Center catering manager.

Among the problems of note as stated in the audit:

- The catering managers allowed employees to use university equipment (dishes, flatware, linens, etc.) for personal use.

- Employees were allowed to purchase food at a discount, but there was no written authorization, nor was there an established discount amount.

- A van used by the alumni center catering unit was ticketed in Houston in July 2004, but the department was unable to determine who drove the van.

- Pornographic e-mails were found in the assistant director's inbox from November 2004, as well as e-mails for church business written and read during work hours, both violations of system policy.

- Partially consumed bottles of alcohol were found in the cabinet of the assistant director.

- In spite of a $3 million loss for the department since 2001, including $1 million of that in catering, Beard approved nearly 300-thousand dollars of free catering over the last 18 months.

- Two employees of the alumni center catering unit were found to have excessive amounts of overtime, including one with $11,000 in OT on a budgeted salary of $25,000.

"When you work with people, you try to make sure they know what's right and wrong and try to follow the right procedures," Powell said.

Sam Rowland, the attorney for Beard and several food services employees terminated in July, refused an on-camera or taped phone interview, but made a number of assertions.

In reference to the audit, Rowland called it a memorandum full of speculation and void of evidence. He said problems revealed in an audit done back in March were corrected by Beard. He also said Beard had been described as an exemplary head of the department in memos. Rowland also said those fired employees have never received reasons for their terminations, only that there was cause for their firings. If the university cannot provide concrete reasons, a lawsuit may be an option, he said.