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Edison president will release all donation spending if law changes

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Photo: Video by fox4now.com

Edison president will release all donation spending if law changes

By Matt Grant. CREATED Nov 14, 2012

FORT MYERS - Edison State College's president is reacting after a state lawmaker is calling for big changes that would force the college to become more transparent.

At a private wine and cheese reception, members of the Cape Coral Community Foundation met with Edison president Dr. Jeffrey Allbritten.

Fox 4 used the occasion to ask Allbritten about how your donation dollars are being spent.

"I'd always be happy to meet with any donor at any time," said Allbritten, "if they want to know where there dollars are invested, what we're doing."

"So can you show us where the donations are doing?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"Not legally," said Allbritten. "By law, at this point, we would not be able to do that."

By law, your donations are being spent in secret. That's because, under state statutes, private donations are considered "confidential" and "exempt" from public disclosure and scrutiny.

"People have a right to know where the money's going," said former Trustee, and longtime donor Dr. David Klein. "This isn't some secret society. It's not Skull and Bones."

Klein's family donated more than $250,000 to the college. Money he now regrets after a Fox 4 investigation discovered unspecified donations were used to buy former president Dr. Ken Walker a $64,000 Cadillac Escalade and, more recently, paid for sit-down dinners for the presidential candidates and the board of trustees back in June.

"I always imagined it was just for scholarships," said Klein. "That would make me hesitant to want to donate any more money."

State Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) wants to change the law forcing colleges to reveal how they're spending your donations.

"The majority of donors feel the expenses ought to be public record," said Caldwell. "And that's going to be a discussion we have in the spring time."

While acknowledging the Cadillac wasn't appropriate, Allbritten defended the Edison Foundation.

"We're good stewards of the dollars," said Allbritten, "and always have been good stewards of the dollars that donors give us."

So given his calls for transparency, we asked if he'd support opening the books. Allbritten said he has mixed opinions.

"I'm in support of people who want accountability. We're an open book. We're transparent," said Allbritten. "But I also want to respect those [donors] who have privacy issues."

Because it's private money, not public tax dollars, some donors argue the spending should stay sealed.

Allbritten would only say he will support whatever the legislature decides.

"If the legislature chooses to change that [law] we'll absolutely abide by that," said Allbritten. "And make everything available to people."

Fox 4 also asked Allbritten about the college's probationary status. He says they are on track to correcting the seven areas their accrediting body SACS sited them for - the most serious being a lack of integrity.

Allbritten says he met with the head of SACS in Atlanta two weeks ago and described the meeting as going "tremendously well."

The college will submit a formal report to SACS in February detailing the steps they have done to fix the seven violations needed to keep their accreditation.

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com