Kent: Kent State officials racked up almost $190,000 in bills over nine months to find their next president, according to preliminary reports provided by the university.
The clandestine effort involved keeping candidates separate, instructions to drive into open garage doors, and meetings at multiple locations.
Trustees and search committee members stayed in Cleveland’s InterContinental Hotel, hosted banquets, catered meals and hired transportation to ferry candidates to interviews.
The search came to an end on Jan. 9 when trustees announced that Beverly Warren, provost of Virginia Commonwealth University, would replace retiring President Lester Lefton on July 1.
Yet complete details about the search remain cloaked in secrecy.
The university has referred public records requests from the Beacon Journal for candidate applications to its search firm, Storbeck/Pimental and Associates of Media, Pa., which recruited candidates for the position. No applications have been produced.
While KSU turned over some reports of the costs of the search this week, the invoices do not include any charges for airfare or mileage and only one invoice for a hotel at which unidentified candidates apparently stayed.
KSU assistant counsel Nichole DeCaprio referred questions about the seemingly incomplete reports of the search to KSU spokesman Eric Mansfield.
He said in an email that KSU had “no additional records to release at this time, and we have no additional comments to make about the presidential search process.”
The invoices that KSU did provide included the previously disclosed $161,000 billed by Storbeck/Pimental, the executive search firm that KSU hired to identify, recruit and screen candidates.
The search firm also passed along a $9,000 bill to advertise the search in higher education publications and about $5,250 in travel charges for its employees.
So clandestine was the search that KSU provided special instructions to Local Travel Solutions of Mogadore, which it hired to chauffeur candidates to meetings.
On Dec. 4, Travel Solutions drove three candidates at different times from the Embassy Suites Hotel and the DoubleTree Hotel, both in Independence, to the nearby KSU College of Podiatric Medicine, where trustees were holding a six-hour executive session.
One unidentified candidate, presumably Warren, came from Charlotte on a US Airways flight and was taken directly to the podiatric college. “Take a sign and meet at baggage claim for this flight,” the invoice directed the driver.
Secrecy was paramount in getting the candidates into the podiatric college sight unseen: “Back into garage doors, which will be opened for you on arrival,” the instructions read.
The KSU invoices do not include the charges for the candidates’ apparent stay at the hotels in Independence or any airfare charges for the Dec. 4 meeting or any other time.
However, invoices do include bills for food and drink as the search committee for trustees and search committee members met at several locations on and off campus.
For instance, the university paid $600 for a meal for 22 people (chicken piccata, shrimp skewers, cheesecake and more) on May 18 to Brewsters Cafe Bistro and Pub in Twinsburg. It is unclear if the meal was at the restaurant or was catered to another location.
Searchers also went to the Sheraton Cleveland Airport Hotel for $470 in pizzas, potato chips and fruit kabobs.
They held two events at the InterContinental Hotel near the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland on two occasions.
On Nov. 19, the hotel billed KSU almost $2,000 for a banquet there that included $412 in alcohol and bar charges. Lefton, the president, paid for the liquor from his privately funded discretionary account.
The university also paid about $6,700 for overnight stays, room service, a limousine and mini-bar treats for 30 people at the InterContinental on Nov. 18.
In most cases, the room charges are tied to KSU officials or search committee members — trustee Dennis Eckert, for instance, and Charlene Reed, board secretary. However, in 11 cases, there is no name attached to the room charge.
Between Dec. 6 and 10, the university also racked up more than $11,000 at the InterContinental for equipment rental, breakfasts, lunches, garage charges, coffee breaks and more.
In addition, the university’s banquet office provided almost $1,600 in chicken wraps, brownies, granola bars and more to five meetings on the main KSU campus during the summer and fall.
“Set up very nice!!!!!!!!!!!” read the instructions to the campus staff. “Cloth and skirt food (for food-and-beverage tables) in navy. ... Use boar’s head meats and condiments.”
The Beacon Journal continues to seek information on the candidates and the costs of the search under the state’s open-records laws.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.