Ohio inspector general finds ‘appearance of impropriety’ in 3-year investigation of Ohio University president lease

September 19, 2018

Ohio inspector general finds ‘appearance of impropriety’ in 3-year investigation of Ohio University president lease

ATHENS, Ohio -- When Ohio University leased a new off-campus home for its president three years ago, there was a “appearance” of preferential treatment towards donor John Wharton, the Ohio Inspector General’s office announced Monday.

The university leased thehome for Roderick McDavis and his wife Deborah after she suffered injuries from an encounter with a bat at 29 Park Place, which historically housed OU presidents.

The selection of a new $1.2 million home, with a monthly lease of $4,318, caused campus uproar, with more than 80 faculty signing a letter against the move and a student-led rally filling the area outside the campus home. 

Protestors said the money could be better used for other purposes. Current Pesident Duane Nellis does not live at the president’s residence on campus. 

The Inspector General’s report, released Tuesday, found the relationship between John Wharton and the university had an “appearance of impropriety.”

Wharton, a former alumni board member, was discussing a $100,000 donation to the athletics department at the same time discussions were happening about the lease with the real estate department, according to the report.

This, along with the relationships that Wharton had with members of the university, “fostered an appearance of preferential treatment.” 

The Inspector General found there was no evidence that the athletics department and the real estate department had communicated on the matter. 

The report also details about $20,400 in payments made by the university to Wharton, contrary to the terms of the lease. 

Investigators couldn’t find a request by university staff for these payments, which was required in the lease agreement.

These payments included: 

$5,019.18 for replacement of composite decking$14,811.94 for replacement of sod

OU issued the following response on Tuesday after the report was released: 

We have been cooperating with the Inspector General’s office regarding its review of Ohio University’s business practices for over three years, so we were anticipating the release of this report. When we initially learned there were issues surrounding some of our practices in 2015, Ohio University immediately initiated its own internal review. We have implemented many positive process changes since then and continue to strive to employ best practices.

Having only received the report today, we intend to give it our full attention in the coming weeks as we prepare a formal response, including details on changes we have already made to our processes and procedures and other steps we have taken as a result of what we learned through our internal review.

In a press conference Wednesday, officials said that no employees were disciplined.

“If there were weaknesses, they were systemic witnesses,” general counsel John Biancamano said. 

The Inspector General’s office offered suggestions to improve university processes, including all vendors to disclose and document existing and ongoing relationships with university.

Read the full report here. 

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