The University of the District of Columbia spent an estimated $1 million on travel in less than nine months, according to testimony presented at a D.C. City Council hearing.
The hearing was supposed to focus on the city’s oversight of the university, but quickly became a two-hour back-and-forth with UDC President Allen Sessoms over a FOX 5 Investigation into his travel spending.
“We’ve had reports on TV asking you questions. You’ve had people asking you questions and every time there’s not answers,” said Council Chairman Kwame Brown. “So, today, we’re going to sit here until we get some answers.”
UDC President Allen Sessoms testified under oath he needs to fly First Class because of a circulatory problem.
But Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) didn’t buy it.
"There is bulk head seating, and the coach area,” she pointed out. “There is business class. So, there are other accommodations and exit rows. When I travel, I would like some leg room too. So, I understand there are amenities you can take in economy class travel. So, that's not a valid excuse for me."
Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) wanted an explanation for why UDC spent nearly $8,000 on the president’s flight to Egypt.
ALLEN SESSOMS: "It may not have been the best price. It was a last minute thing because the Egyptians insisted that I come."
MURIEL BOWSER: "Who insisted that you go?"
ALLEN SESSOMS: "My colleagues in Egypt."
MURIEL BOWSER: "How can they insist that you go? What happens if you didn't go?”
ALLEN SESSOMS: "It’s not clear how the system would have been doing. The problem is we are required to go to keep the program accredited twice a year. The president is supposed to go once a year to confer the degrees and to ensure the program, in its evolution, is benefiting the university."
Joseph Askew is the Chairman of UDC’s Board of Trustees and testified that the board is ultimately responsible for approving the president’s travel.
Askew says his board is overwhelmed. He explained the board currently has seven members and eight vacancies. Askew says they have waited two years for the mayor to fill these empty seats.
Askew also announced an internal audit into the president’s spending and hopes to have those results within the month.
ALLEN SESSOMS: "The internal auditor reports to two people. The president and the chair of the Audit Committee, always."
KWAME BROWN: "So, the auditor reports to you?"
ALLEN SESSOMS: "And the Audit chair."
KWAME BROWN: "The chair of the Audit Committee. Where does that person sit in the university, where's that office?"
ALLEN SESSOMS: "The office is in the Administration Building of the university."
KWAME BROWN: "Where exactly in the Administration Building?"
ALLEN SESSOMS: "A couple of doors down in the Executive Suite. Next to the General Counsel's office."
KWAME BROWN: "So, Mr. Askew, the internal audit is being done by someone who reports to the president?"
JOSEPH ASKEW: "The internal audit is being conducted, that was hired by the president of the university. But I can tell you, we have good faith in her ability to conduct an independent audit."
But Chairman Brown suggested the city needed an independent auditor after President Sessoms blamed a series of UDC staffers for why the school was unable to provide documentation for trips to places like Hawaii, Las Vegas and St. Thomas.
“The president has called you up here to, I guess, throw you under the bus," Chairman Brown said to one of these staffers.
Brown told President Sessoms, "It pains me to have to sit here and ask these questions because you haven't given us any responses. That is the most painful part of this.” He continued, “Someone has to take responsibility.”
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