Provo School District Superintendent Jim Bergera offered to resign Friday because of his connections with Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center, but instead school board members gave him a unanimous vote of confidence.
"I do not want to be an embarrassment in this district in any way, shape or form," Bergera said. "I wouldn't want to go through a period of time of taking away from the great work the district is doing. I'll stay or I'll step down."A legislative audit report on Timpanogos, released Tuesday, says contracts between the school district and the center could be a conflict of interest for the superintendent, because he moonlights as a Timpanogos consultant. He was paid $97,190 during a four-year period for his work there.
Meanwhile, State Auditor Tom L. Allen said his office will begin work Monday on a more far-reaching audit of the center's finances. He said his audit will focus on recovering at least some of the $3.5 million the auditor general says was pocketed by eight center administrators.
Allen also said his audit will be broad enough in scope to determine whether alleged conflicts of interests involving Bergera and others are valid.
"I really believe all those issues will come up," Allen said. "As we reconstruct it, anyone who would have a conflict will be looked at."
During a special meeting of the Provo Board of Education, Bergera said his actions have been appropriate but he would resign if school board members wanted him to.
Board members and a crowd of about 80 people at the meeting made it clear they did not want to lose the superintendent. When the board agreed to offer Bergera a vote of confidence they got a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd.
Board members said they need more information about district involvement with Timpanogos, which is being investigated by the state for misuse of more than $3.5 million in public money, but they believe Bergera will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
"We have, in my opinion, the finest superintendent that's available anywhere," said Clarence Robison, board president. "I have absolute faith in his integrity. All the facts will come out later. He has a 100 percent vote of confidence from me. Our vote will let Jim Bergera know he's going to continue to serve with our blessing."
The board did vote to relieve Bergera of his administrative duties involving Timpanogos, however. Another district employee will oversee the program and report directly to the school board rather than the superintendent.
The legislative report says the mental health center got money and personnel support from the Provo School District for a program it sponsored there. Bergera apparently worked as a Timp employee on the program while supervising the same program for the district.
In other action, the board voted unanimously to accept the resignation of board member Glen Brown, who resigned Wednesday as director of the Timpanogos Mental Health Center in the wake of the legislative audit findings.
In an unprecedented open executive session, board members tentatively agreed to offer the vacant board seat to Gayle M. Chandler, a candidate in the November election who is running unopposed.
They voted to authorize an in-house audit that will review all of the district's dealings with the mental health center and identify other school district employees also working for Timpanogos.
"There are a number of people in the district working for Timpanogos. We haven't been able to get a list of them," Robison said. "There are a number of things that we need to learn as a board. It's not our intent to hide anything. This whole area (concerning Bergera's involvement) is something we need to find out more information on."
The State Office of Education also intends to learn more about Provo District's connection to Timpanogos. Eileen Rencher, coordinator of public affairs, said all of Provo's state awarded funds have been placed on hold pending an audit by a member of the finance division of the office of education.
"We don't know that there's a problem but we want to make sure there is not a problem," Rencher said. "We'll audit the allocation of the state funds that could possibly be involved in the current problem. We don't know what we're going to find."
The district will continue to receive state money it uses for normal operations, but awards for special programs will be held until the audit is complete, she said.
Allen said his audit will dovetail with other reviews, including criminal investigations by the Utah attorney general's office and the state Medicaid fraud unit.
"It's one thing to point out that there is a problem, but we need to recover that money," Allen said.
Allen said his review will expand to cover all 160 employees at the center, instead of the eight focused on in the legislative auditor's report. He said many other employees have expense accounts and independent contracts, which were the primary vehicles for the abuses detailed in the auditor general's report.
Meanwhile, Gov. Norm Bangerter is criticizing the Department of Social Services for placing so much reliance on independent audits of its agencies. Such audits by the Timp Mental Health Board failed to disclose abuses.
"It disturbs me deeply when people entrusted with public funds disregard their trust and misuse public funds," the governor said in a press release. "Fortunately, the vast majority of people are honest."
Bangerter said he is directing Social Services to review its policy of relying so heavily on independent audits.