Trustees’ Detroit retreat: $4,000-plus for one meal
COURTESY of The Ann Arbor Chronicle
When Washtenaw Community College trustees met at a retreat in Detroit this month and decided to raise tuition by nearly 10 percent, they spent more than $9,000, including more than $4,000 on a single meal.
According to receipts obtained by The Ann Arbor Chronicle, the board retreat cost $9,190.70. More than 40 percent of that number was a $4,023.87 dinner bill from 24grille. The bill included an 18 percent gratuity, making the true cost $3299.57.
Both Steven Hardy, vice president of administration and finance, and Mary Faulkner, executive assistant to the board of trustees, estimated the number of people in attendance to be 20-22. The cost of the dinner, minus gratuity, would be $149.98 per person if 22 people attended.
The Washtenaw Voice has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see the itemized bill for the meal.
Hardy said no alcohol was included in the tab.
“The college doesn’t pay for alcohol. That’s just our general policy,” he said. “If someone had an alcoholic drink, they paid for it on their own dime.”
Hardy noted that there are special circumstances when the college does pay for alcohol, such as the WCC’s Foundation’s annual Mardi Gras fundraiser.
The retreat was held March 5-6 in Detroit in order to keep people focused, according to Board chair Stephen Gill.
“We’ve found in the past with this and many, many organizations, that when you hold a meeting like this close to home, it’s hard to keep their attention,” he said.
24grille’s online menu lists items such as crab cakes for $14, pork tacos, $10; black sea bass, $30; and the $60 “land, air, sea”—a dish comprised of filet, duck and scallop.
“I don’t think it’s justified,” Trustee Mark Freeman said of the dinner’s cost. “I didn’t go. I didn’t go because I assumed it was being paid by individuals. I went home and I didn’t get a room either.”
Other board members feel differently.
“The way I look at this, there is a budgeted amount of dollars for board retreat activities, or board-related activities, it’s a budgeted item within our budget,” Board Treasurer David Rutledge said. “If we’ve gone over that, then I’d be concerned, but I don’t know that we have. And that amount of money, and I don’t know what that number is, should be looked at in terms of what percentage is the expenditure to the overall budget. I mean, we’re talking about a $90 million budget here, an amount devoted to board-related activities.”
Freeman didn’t agree with Rutledge.
“I know a lot of other people have compared the four grand to the whole budget and it looks small but compare it to a student’s education,” he said. “You could almost get an associates with that money. That money could have changed someone’s life.”
Gill, though, agreed with Rutledge.
“The cost of the retreat is an infinitesimal portion of our overall budget. I think it’s worth it,” he said.
Trustee Diana McKnight-Morton pointed out everyone serving on the board volunteer their time to serve WCC and take time out of their lives to attend board retreats.
“We drive down there, we’re away from our families, away from other things that we could be doing and we’re there from a Friday afternoon all the way through a Saturday afternoon and all we do is talk about the college and how we can make it better, and that’s all we do. We feel that if this happens just once a year, then that’s OK,” McKnight-Morton said, clarifying the words as her own opinion.
“I am very supportive of the fact that we do the retreat this way,” said Vice Chair Pamela Horiszny. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at some of the details.”
Rutledge agreed, saying, “I would think that we would want to take a real hard look and make sure that we’re not out of line.”
Trustee Richard Landau said the board guides the college as best it can and they all donate their time “without reservation.”
“I devoted 15 hours of my time probing, discussing [the increase in tuition],” Landau said. “I didn’t get paid one red cent for it. I got dinner.”
Freeman, on the other hand, is a student at WCC and said he “feels the pain, too.”
“We had the opportunity to send a positive impact and we didn’t,” he said.
Trustee Anne Williams did not respond to The Voice’s repeated phone calls seeking her reaction.
Nicole Bednarski, Quinn Davis and Matt Thompson contributed to this article.