MOHELA Audit complete concludes oversight needed

Susan Montee reported results today in regards to the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) audit. Results weren't good. Montee cited a number of areas of concern including unusually large sums of money for former employees, "2.3 million in severance benefits to four former executives who either resigned or whose employment was terminated in recent years" Montee wrote:

More than $46,000 was expended on the annual MOHELA Board retreats. Two of these annual retreats (in November 2004 and 2005) were held at a luxury resort south of Branson. The cost of the November 2004 retreat totaled at least $12,334, and included $6,605 in room charges (guest room charges ranged from $319 to $409 per night), $4,421 in catering charges, and $1,308 in other charges. More than $1,500 was spent related to alcoholic beverages. The cost of the November 2005 retreat totaled at least $16,596, and included $11,685 in room charges, $3,871 in catering charges, and $1,040 in room service and other charges. The November 2006 annual retreat was held in St. Louis and at least $17,398 in costs were incurred related to this retreat, including $3,403 in meeting room and lodging costs, $8,120 in catering charges (including over $1,200 for alcoholic beverages), and $5,875 in meal and entertainment expenses at a local dinner theatre.

The activities predate Governor Matt Blunt's Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, which liquidates $350 million in asset to fund capital improvement projects at Missouri's colleges and universities. The issue was the focal point of Missouri Republican legislative efforts during the 2007 session.

Passage was a priority for Republicans who broke rank with Senate tradition to stop Senate Democrats from continuing an extended filibuster during the 2007 session. Kansas City was punished specifically after Senator Jolie Justus ignored warnings the Republicans were willing to use the "nuclear option" to stop debate and force a vote to the floor.

In response to Montee's findings, Blunt said,
"The audit included a number of valuable findings, including notable problems with pension plans for MOHELA employees that may not be in compliance with standard practice or applicable law, which is a concern I outlined in letters to Auditor Montee in January and August.

"The audit findings confirm our concern that MOHELA has not been run as effectively as possible, and so has not reached its full potential to operate in an efficient and responsible way to best fill a very important need for Missouri students.

"I was disappointed the audit did not, as I had requested, include the last ten years of operations, despite the fact that some of the issues addressed in the audit are longstanding ones, and that the audit did not include interviews with previous executives involved with MOHELA's operations.

"My office will continue to examine the findings of the audit and remains fully committed to enhancing accountability and transparency in state government to better serve Missouri students and all Missourians."