The University of Virginia Board of Visitors — which gained unprecedented publicity last month when it tried to quietly oust U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan and quickly felt the wrath of thousands of her supporters — was scheduled to gather in Charlottesville at the end of the week for an annual retreat and strategy session. Sullivan and her staff usually attend these retreats.
That retreat has been rescheduled for Aug. 15 and 16 in Richmond to accommodate new board members who had schedule conflicts, and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who wants to address the group. There is still no set agenda or location for the retreat, according to a board spokeswoman.
In previous years, these retreats have occurred away from Charlottesville and cost tens of thousands of dollars. While parts of these meetings are open to the public, most are conducted in closed sessions.
The 2011 retreat was held at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town and Lorien Hotel and Spa, and expenditures exceeded $30,000. The year before, the retreat was held at the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront and cost more than $18,000.
Spending is not just limited to the retreats. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Sunday that the board spent $115,581 for the fiscal year ending June 30. Those expenses included dinners, stays at luxury hotels, travel costs and entertainment for spouses. (I should note here that the board members are not paid, and most of them juggle their board responsibilities with high-profile, demanding jobs.)
But let’s focus on last year’s retreat, which totaled more than $30,000 in just three days at a time when tuition rates have increased and university departments have felt the squeeze of budget constraints. Here’s a day-by-day recounting of that retreat, as pieced together using board documents and public records requested by media outlets:
Thursday, July 14, 2011: About 20 people attended an evening reception and multi-course dinner at the critically acclaimed Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria. An “acceptance list” of those who planned to attend included a handful of new board members, board rector Helen E. Dragas, vice rector Mark Kington, Sullivan and a few top university administrators, along with spouses, according to expenditure records released by the university at the request of the Washington Examiner.
A contract with the restaurant arranged for a private dinning room and guarantees sales of at least $3,600. A procurement form filled out by a board staffer budgets for $5,000. A written notation states $4,638. (In the records that I have, there is no final bill or receipt for this meal.)
Friday, July 15, 2011: The board meets with university administrators and others starting at 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton. The meeting room rental cost $640, along with $1,322 for audiovisual equipment for the day. As everyone gathered, the Hilton served a lunch of deli sandwiches, sodas and iced tea. The total bill for lunch was $1,776.
In special attendance were members of the medical center operating board, as a key focus of the retreat was the operation of the university hospital, according to minutes from the retreat. After Dragas introduced the new board members, the group went into executive session, which was closed to the public, at 1:45 p.m.
At some point in the afternoon, a snack was served that cost $21 per person for a total of $1,005 after taxes and service charges.
At 5 p.m., the board resumed its open meeting and proposed changing the make-up of the board, possibly adding more members, including more people from out-of-state and those with medical experience. Dragas recessed the retreat at 5:20 p.m.
That night, almost everyone stayed at the Lorien, which is close to the Hilton and bills itself as a “luxury boutique hotel.” Most rooms cost about $150 per night before taxes and fees, and the university paid to lodge more than three dozen people, some for just one night and others for two nights, for a total cost of more than $8,350, according to a Lorien statement. Later, a student member submitted a receipt for reimbursement for a room that cost about $340.
The board also picked up the travel expenses for board members who ask for reimbursement. One member, who lives in Connecticut, was reimbursed $358 for a plane ticket and $564 for car service to and from the airports.
That night, a three-course dinner was served at the Lorien that totaled $4,240 for 50 people, according to the hotel statement.
Saturday, July 16, 2011: That morning, the Lorien served an “American breakfast” to more than 50 people for $2,282.
The meeting resumed at 8 a.m. at the Lorien and immediately went into a closed, executive session. While meeting minutes from previous retreats fill at least a dozen pages and include even more pages of reports and other documents, the minutes from the 2011 retreat fill just five pages. And the documentation for what occurred Saturday fills one page, stating several times that the closed sessions were lawful.
A boxed lunch was served at some point in the day, costing $2,166. The meeting then adjourned at 1 p.m. In total, the university paid the Lorien more than $4,400 for meeting room rentals, audio visual equipment and other conference services.
Meanwhile, spouses of board members, administrators and others attended a luncheon at the Morrison House in Alexandria. The meal was served in the Louis XVI room and cost $878. The spouses were also bused to Mount Vernon for a tour. The mini-bus cost $570.
At 5:15 p.m. a mini-bus was scheduled to arrive at the Lorien hotel and transport everyone to a historic home in Alexandria that is owned by Kington, the vice rector, for an evening meal. That bus bill was $760.