Montgomery College Chief Denounces Allegations

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Montgomery College President Brian K. Johnson on Wednesday launched a defense of his administration, characterizing recent allegations of mismanagement and overspending as a "vicious attack on my credibility" by labor groups seeking advantage in contract negotiations.

More than 200 full-time faculty approved a no-confidence vote last week on Johnson, 52, president of Maryland's largest community college since 2007. Trustees are scheduled to meet Thursday to consider Johnson's performance in light of a report, prepared by faculty leadership groups and delivered to the board, that alleges Johnson was frequently absent from his office, skipped important meetings, intimidated staff and overspent with his corporate credit card. The closed meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the college.

"I am disappointed," Johnson said in a prepared statement, "that some members of the Montgomery College family have recently spread frivolous allegations in a vicious attack on my credibility. I have assured the Board of Trustees that these lies and half-truths will not detract from our efforts to ensure that students at Montgomery College receive a quality education, and attend world-class facilities."

Rose Sachs, president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the faculty had moved against Johnson out of concern for the college and not for their contract, which expires in June. She said faculty had enjoyed "very, very amicable" labor relations until Johnson's arrival.

The comments Johnson issued Wednesday marked his first public response to the faculty report, which alleges specific instances of missed meetings, charges to limousine services and evidence of "extensive travel" while travel has been curtailed for others at the college.

Johnson provided written explanations and clarifications to many details of the faculty document, the contents of which were leaked and appeared in news reports last week. He had previously declined to comment on the advice of his attorney.

The president said a $4,051 hotel bill in Delhi, cited as a symbol of overspending, did not involve college funds. He said the trip had a legitimate purpose: to bring business to a county incubator in Germantown. He said he was not provided final documentation on the expense.

Johnson wrote that he was scheduled to join County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and members of the business community and that the trip was organized by the county and sponsored by the college's foundation, but he did not explain why charges were submitted to the college.

A $780 tab from Lifestyle Transportation, a Boston limousine service, was for town cars, not limousines, Johnson said, and was booked for a member of the board of trustees who traveled with Johnson and another college official.

Johnson said he had not seen a full breakdown of the $58,165 charged on his corporate card between July 2007 and April 2009, as recorded in expense documents obtained by faculty through public records requests. He said that his corporate credit card had been "compromised" during that span and that some items in the records might be fraudulent. There was no explanation of how the card was compromised.

The faculty report alleges that Johnson has been out of office "for a day or several days" without account. Johnson replied, in written notations, that he has been absent only for "meetings, events, and scheduled leave." He said "no evidence of [a] log-jam exists" as a result of his absences.

Johnson also said he has never censored materials, answering another faculty allegation, and he "vehemently" denied the claims of some employees that listening devices had been installed in college offices.

The faculty report says Johnson's tenure has left the college "destabilized and without a viable structure of leadership." Johnson replied that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education had "praised the administrative strength of the College" in renewing the institution's accreditation last year.

The faculty report also cites "threats of retaliation, and explosive, targeted rage" from Johnson. "Not true," the president replied, saying he had received no formal complaints on behavior.

As for an Aretha Franklin performance scheduled for Sept. 11 at a cost of nearly $150,000, Johnson said only $20,000 of that sum comes from the college's operating budget.

Sachs said the faculty report was painstakingly compiled over spring and summer. "We documented everything," she said.

"It wasn't meant to be a comprehensive report," she said. "It was meant to paint a picture that was compelling enough to motivate our board to investigate what we had been hearing and what we had been uncovering. Because for 2 1/2 years, that had not been happening."

Faculty members have asked trustees to investigate Johnson's activities and place him on leave.

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