State Government, West Virginia Legislature

Legislative audit: HEPC wrongly granted former chancellor 6-month sabbatical with salary, benefits, travel expenses

MORGANTOWN – A new legislative post audit says the Higher Education Policy Commission entered into an unauthorized sabbatical-leave contract with former Chancellor Paul Hill that cost the state more than $249,00 in salary, benefits and travel reimbursement.

“Beyond having the former chancellor on a retainer of sorts ready to share his expertise, it is unclear what, if any, benefit was accrued as a result of this contract, as HEPC isunable to provide any work prodcut or results generated during the contract,” the audit says.

The report was prepared by the legislative auditor’s office Post Audit Division.

Hill was named interim chancellor in January 2012, then appointed to the position for three years that May and appointed to another three-year term in November 2015. In March 2018 he announced his retirement effective July 1, 2018. A search committee was formed that April and an interim named in July.

On July 10, 2018, after Hill’s retirement, HEPC entered into a six-month contract with Hill, terming it a sabbatical leave. His regualar salary of $11,178 every two weeks continued during that period.

Hill’s role was to serve as a consultant on funding issues being explored by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education in preparation for legislation to be drafted and acted on.

However, the audit says, HEPC made a number of mistakes. One, it wrongly termed his contract period a sabbatical. Colleges and universities grant sabbaticals but HEPC is neither. And Hill wasn’t taking sabbatical in order to improve his teaching skills or do research.

Also, state code requires faculty granted sabbatical leave to return to their school for at least a year or pay back the money received during the sabbatical. Hill did neither.

HEPC does have the authority, the audit says, to alter or extend a chancellor’s service but once Hill announced his retirement, that authority was gone, as stipulated in his contract.

HEPC essentially created an unauthorized sabbatical, the audit says, in order to avoid having two chancellors serve simultaneously in violation of state code.

Hill’s expense statements refer to him as a consultant, the audit says. But there is no documentary proof of Hill’s consulting work because he produced nothing in writing – it was all received verbally by the HEPC chairman.

The audit says that per state code, Hill should have been considered a temporary employee, and therefore ineligible for benefits. His duties matched the task of a consultant and the job should have been bid competitively.

Hill wrongly received, the audit says, $200,580.77 in salary, $39,298.73 in benefits during the contract period and$7,915.47 in benefits after the contract expired, along with $1,847.65 in travel reimbursement – with $1,731.65 of that travel occurring after the contract expired and Hill was a private person ineligible for reimbursement.

The audit recommends that in the future, HEPC follow the law for employee and consulting contracts, seek legal counsel on whether HEPC can obtain reimbursement of wrongfully paid benefits, seek reimbursement of Hill’s travel or make the $1,731.65 taxable income, and make sure all payments to contractors fall within the contract period.

In a response letter, HEPC says it entered into the contract with the best interests of the state in mind but now recognizes Hill’s employment should have been extended through a different process. HEPC will consult with legal counsel regarding reimbursement.

A letter addressed to HEPC notes that legislative audits are typically presented to the Post Audits Subcommittee, but because of COVID there were no interim meetings this year. The audit was released to the public Tuesday, the day before the 2021 session begins.

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