BELLINGHAM - A Western Washington University administrator who was gone nearly half of his first year on the job will have to repay $20,000 to the university as part of his settlement with the State Executive Ethics Board.
Douglas Nord also will have to pay a $5,000 civil penalty as part of the settlement, in which he agreed his on-the-clock travel violated state ethics law. The settlement was approved Nov. 9 and it likely won't affect Nord's employment at WWU, said university spokesman Paul Cocke.
Nord started working for WWU in December 2007 as executive director of the university's Center for International Studies, with an annual salary of $105,000.
The State Auditor's Office, which began a whistleblower investigation into Nord's travels after receiving a tip in June 2009, found that WWU spent more than $38,000 for 22 trips that Nord had taken between his hiring date and June 2009. That number didn't include Nord's salary for the days he was gone.
The university also had issued its own report about Nord's travel in January 2009, after receiving a complaint the previous fall about his absences and use of school resources. The school investigation found that between December 2007 and October 2008, Nord spent 48 percent of his time away from campus and did not submit leave slips for any of that time, according to the State Auditor's Office.
According to the Ethics Board's "Conclusions of Law" from December 2007 through September 2010, while Nord was the director of the Center for International Studies, he was gone from campus 272 days out of 716 possible working days. Many of those days were for travel, some of it related to his role as the international studies director, and some days he was simply "gone."
"He'd do what he considered research and be gone from his Western duties with no official rhyme or reason," said Melanie de Leon, executive director of the State Executive Ethics Board. "The board found he'd used his position to give himself a privilege he wouldn't normally have had, and he also used state resources inappropriately."
Nord didn't return a message left on his university phone seeking comment for this story.
According to the state audit, Nord was investigated for similar issues in his previous job at Wright State University, in Ohio. That university's audit identified issues with Nord's travel practices, including charging the university for personal travel, charging for expenses that were paid by outside organizations, incorrectly charging expenses to grants, and "significant absenteeism." He reimbursed the school more than $13,000 and resigned from his position as executive director of the school's Center for International Education "with strong encouragement from the Provost," according to the audit.
Nord resigned from his position as director of WWU's Center for International Studies, but he remains employed at WWU as a professor of political science and international relations, making $81,900 a year, Cocke said. He believed that Nord would keep that job.
"No faculty member at Western can be fired unless and until a due process hearing has occurred and after charges have been made and time is given for a response," Cocke said. "None of that has happened."
WWU's response to the audit has included closer monitoring of travel, immediate addressing of travel irregularities, and continued training of directors, deans and staff with added attention to frugal use of university resources and specific documentation during travel.
"We have taken this investigation very seriously and have thoroughly reviewed and, where needed, improved policies related to travel and other expenses incurred by university employees," Cocke said in an email.
The university's response is in line with how other agencies have reacted to similar ethics violations, de Leon said.
"What I've seen in the past is the agencies usually change their policies to tighten up their travel and their approval on these types of things," she said. "But it doesn't automatically mean that someone's going to lose their job, and typically they don't, regardless of what agency they work for."
SEE THE REPORTS
Read the State Auditor's Office report on Douglas Nord's activities.
Read Nord's settlement with the State Executive Ethics Board.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 756-2803.