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Outgoing Auditor Wants U of L Investigation To Continue, Unclear If It Will

J. Tyler Franklin

Outgoing State Auditor Adam Edelen says his office’s examination of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees won’t be complete by the end of his term.

Edelen, a Democrat, lost to Republican Mike Harmon in the November election. Harmon said he’s adopted a “wait and see” approach as to whether he’ll continue the investigation.

Earlier this year, Edelen opened up an investigation into the board and its relationship with the University of Louisville Foundation, which manages the school’s $1.1 billion endowment. Both the board and foundation have come under fire for hefty compensation packages awarded to the school’s top executives — including U of L President James Ramsey, who is the sitting president of both boards.

In an exit interview with Kentucky Public Radio and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Edelen said that it would be a “significant setback” if Harmon decides to not continue the investigation.

“The decision whether to continue the University of Louisville audit, is going to set the stage for the kind of auditor that my successor is going to be,” Edelen said.

“It is important that you communicate strength. It's important that you communicate that you are going to track every tax dollar when you come into this office. And failure to do so will largely result in being pushed around the lunchroom for four years.”

U of L President Ramsey’s base salary is about $670,000. On top of that, the U of L Foundation awards bonuses—Ramsey received $1,023,153 in deferred compensation and tax gross-ups from the foundation in 2015.

The U of L Foundation is a non-profit and technically independent from the university.

Incoming auditor Harmon, who’s presently a state Representative from Danville, said in an interview last month that he was skeptical about whether the state auditor had the authority to look into the foundation.

“I’ve always been unclear as to where the auditor gets the authority and the power to be able to audit a fully private group, and they do use the funds toward public good,” Harmon said at the time. “So that’s something that we’ll have to review in more detail.”

Edelen disagrees, and said the foundation can’t shield itself from public inspection.

“If you follow that logic, what it would enable public institutions to do is run through a private entity important resources that would shield the public from their ability to oversee how those resources are being spent,” Edelen said.

The U of L has been under the microscope as multiple scandals have emerged over the past year.

The NCAA is investigating the school's basketball program after a former escort alleged an ex-coach paid for strippers and sex for players and recruits. Ramsey and his senior staff were accused of being racially insensitive for  wearing stereotypical Mexican garb at a Halloween party and the FBI is investigating top U of L officials for possible misuse of federal grant funds.

Edelen says oversight in the university has "clearly" broken down.

"So the question is, is there a culture of permissiveness inside the University of Louisville that has created an environment where people think that they can get away with these abuses of their position? To me, that requires the involvement of watchdogs," he said.

Edelen's last day in office is Jan. 3.

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