Friday, October 21, 2016

Editorial: Iowa State University and Leath have bungled the response to Planegate

Iowa State University:

It’s safe to say the clumsy response of Iowa State University and its president, Steven Leath, to the scandal we’ll call “Planegate” — at this point, it deserves the ubiquitous "gate" suffix — is every bit as damaging to the university’s reputation as the original offense.

The Associated Press reported last month that Leath, a certified pilot, has used one or both of the university’s two airplanes for trips that appear to be partially, if not primarily, personal in nature, and that Leath failed to reimburse the school for damage caused to one of the planes last summer.

All of the missteps that have taken place since Leath’s “hard landing” caused more than $12,000 in damage to the plane are impossible to catalog here, but they began when Leath decided to inform only the Board of Regents’ president, Bruce Rastetter, about the damage to the plane. Rastetter never passed that information on to his fellow regents.

To make matters worse, Leath didn’t pay for the damage to the aircraft last year, and agreed to do so this year only after the matter became public.

If that wasn’t bad enough, when Leath agreed to pay for the damages, he and ISU refused to characterize those payments as reimbursements, instead calling them “donations,” as if this was a generous act of charity on the president’s part.

Leath then promised he would never again fly any “state-owned aircraft,” but didn’t acknowledge that he might have — unwittingly or otherwise — violated state laws and policies restricting the personal use of public assets.

With the controversy surrounding Leath growing, the university then decided to yank from its website the flight records that detail the use of ISU’s two planes. It did so after Leath pledged “to be as open and transparent as possible” about his use of university planes.

Leath’s explanation for scrubbing the site of the flight information was maddening and utterly confounding. He said the records were pulled because they enabled reporters to identify people he was meeting with on his trips out of state. Leath complained that AP reporter Ryan Foley asked “totally inappropriate” questions related to donations Leath claims to have raised as a result of the meetings — suggesting Leath has no familiarity at all with the concept of public accountability.

Leath now says that information from the flight records will be given to anyone who wants it — although, he says, the names of university donors will be redacted. The trouble is, the flight records don’t identify any donors; they list only passengers, who may or may not be donors. Among the passenger names now treated as confidential by ISU: John Dudley, a professional bow-hunter who accompanied Leath on at least four trips.

Now it turns out that Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand made inquiries into Leath’s use of the planes, but his probe was halted after the Board of Regents' attorney contacted Sand’s boss to complain. A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says Sand’s investigation was inappropriate because police, not prosecutors, generally conduct criminal investigations, and the state can’t bring charges unless a case is referred by a county prosecutor.

The information Sand gathered was forwarded to Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, who promptly determined no further investigation was warranted.

Now, belatedly, the Board of Regents is calling for an audit of every flight offered by Iowa State University's Flight Service since Leath was hired in 2012. The audit also will consider whether having ISU continue to operate the flight service is a good use of its limited resources — a basic task that should have been done long ago as part of the regents’ efforts at cost-cutting and improving efficiency.

For taxpayers and ISU supporters, there’s only one good thing that can be said about the school’s response to Planegate: For students working toward a degree in public relations, it provides a textbook example of crisis mismanagement.

Original article can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. It's been a few years since I worked an investigation of misuse of aircraft. The audit would have to, at a very minimum, determine if misuse of any university property is ongoing. You may have to catch him in the act. The university may need to move quickly to prevent further losses. Identify potential witnesses. Who might know about the aircraft misuses? What's their role/how do they know? Are they likely to cooperate? Would they tell S.L. if they were interviewed? Develop an investigative plan based on the above considerations. Obtain necessary approvals to initiate investigation. Work your plan and revise based and information / evidence collected. What about possible embezzlement funds, has that been audited? If not, it should it.