Patrick Administration summons Westfield State President Dobelle to Boston to explain his big spending

Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle is pictured at the University in Westfield, MA on Wednesday, August 14, 2013. Dobelle is under fire for lavish spending of public money on trips, personal expenses, alcohol, and questionable expenditures. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle
Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

The Patrick administration has summoned Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle and his board of trustees to Boston next week to answer questions about reports of Dobelle using university-related credit cards for personal expenses and costly business travel such as $8,000 for a four-night hotel stay in Bangkok.

Charles F. Desmond, chairman of the state board of higher education, sent a letter to Dobelle today expressing concerns after a recent review of Dobelle’s spending by Westfield State’s accountants found numerous violations of university credit card policy and a lack of documentation for Dobelle’s expenses on several cards.

Desmond said he was not reassured by Dobelle’s written response, in which he claimed that all of the problems were in the past and that the report by the accountants at O’Connor and Drew was shoddy.

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“This report – and your letter – raise serious concerns about the appropriateness of certain expenditures,” wrote Desmond, asking Dobelle to appear before the board of higher education on the morning of Sept. 20.

Desmond added that “We also have concerns about the handling of the O’Connor & Drew findings” by the trustees, some of whom have questioned the legitimacy of the spending review because it was never approved by the full board. The trustees have not disciplined Dobelle.

Desmond sent a separate letter to trustee chairman John Flynn asking the trustees to appear before the board of higher education on the same day as Dobelle.

Dobelle responded immediately, saying in a letter to Desmond, “I welcome an opportunity to meet and would be pleased to discuss the appropriateness of the investments identified in the accountants’ report.”

Desmond told Dobelle and Flynn that he expects to be joined at the meetings by Patrick’s Education Secretary Matthew Malone as well as Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland. One official said the meetings are meant to pressure Westfield State University to take stronger action.

Dobelle, Westfield State’s president since 2008, has admitted that he sometimes charged personal expenditures on his university credit card as well as on one of his employees’ university cards, plus a third credit card given to him by the foundation that raises private donations for the school. The foundation canceled Dobelle’s card in 2010 after he charged more than $200,000 in expenses and helped precipitate a financial crisis at the foundation.

Dobelle, as well as his trustees, say that changes in expense procedures have eliminated the problem of mingling personal and business expenses. However, Dobelle’s spending is now under investigation by both the state inspector general and the attorney general.