All told, Sessoms has taken 36 university-paid trips totaling $58,444 since becoming UDC president. One trip, to Egypt, was billed at $7,952. The auditors said that in many cases, the expenses were poorly documented.
University spokesman Alan Etter said that Sessoms, who declined to comment, would take appropriate action once the Board of Trustees completes a review of the audit, which has not been officially released.
“We are implementing systems that will make for more transparent accounting,” Etter said. “We recognize the need to spend our resources in a way that is efficient and that benefits our students.”
Under Sessoms’s contract, he is entitled to reimbursement of “reasonable business and travel expenses . . . pursuant to a budget developed on a semi-annual basis” between him and UDC board members. The expenses are to be reviewed “on at least a quarterly basis” by the board or a designee.
No budgets were developed, the audit said, and reviews of Sessoms’s expenses were spotty.
In January 2010, the board’s chairman, Joseph L. Askew Jr., asked a Sessoms aide to prepare a budget for approval. She refused, auditors said, replying to Askew in an e-mail that “it is impossible to know where he is going in the next 11 months.” She added that she would forward authorization forms to the board “because I am required to do so, and it informs you of the time he will be in or out of the city.”
The aide, the audit concluded, “obstructed the Board from receiving the information that was contractually agreed upon.”
At a D.C. Council hearing last month, Askew acknowledged that it was the board’s responsibility “to approve any travel expenses that it is made aware of.”
“The board certainly has exercised its fiduciary duty when those expenses have been presented to it,” he said. “I do want to emphasize — if the expense does not come to us, we may not know about it.”
The Egypt trip, Askew said, did not get board approval. Sessoms said the trip, to visit a university program in Cairo, was planned on short notice after Egyptian officials insisted on his presence.
At the hearing, Sessoms said that there were “contradictions” and “ambiguities” about the expense approval process. Auditors said the process lacked rigor.
“There is this tangle that nobody can completely understand,” he said. “In fact, it’s fair to argue that hardly anybody knows what the rules are because they’re so confusing.”
The audit found that two previous board chairmen had, in some instances, “preauthorized airline fares that were clearly not coach fares,” in violation of city guidelines. Sessoms also took 14 trips without pre-authorization.