Northern Illinois University (ECWd) -
NIU and President Doug Baker’s administration continue to dazzle with their numerous creative ways to circumvent state rules. The ban on reimbursement of employee commuting costs seems to be quite clear in the state travel rules, but Baker seems determined to reimburse his chosen “employees” for their commutes.
We introduced Nancy Suttenfield, the now ex-interim CFO for NIU (here). In that article we mentioned the additional $920 per paycheck that Baker paid Suttenfield starting at day 1 of her employment; these payments were made with the explanations of “additional pay for increased duties” and “duties as CFO”. The extra payments totaled $29,440. At the time we speculated that the payments were compensation for benefits to which affiliate employees are not entitled. We were wrong.
This email has finally come to light. Suttenfield wrote to Dori Hooker, Baker’s secretary:
Perhaps I misunderstood. I thought that the add pay for my commuting expenses was to be reinstated effective April 1 and included in the April 30 pay amount. It wasn’t.
Hooker responded, thereby apparently confirming that the extra pay was designated specifically for payment of Suttenfield’s commuting costs:
We did reinstate effective April 1st, but it was too late to get into the April 30 payroll. It will appear on May 15th.
The payments to Suttenfield that were earmarked for payment of her commuting expense may not be a clear-cut violation in and of themselves, but it becomes an obvious attempt to circumvent state rules when considering Baker’s pattern of finding alternative ways to improperly making payments for the commuting costs of certain “employees”. For example:
- Ron Walters. The first violation, and the clearest example of direct reimbursement to an employee (here). Walters reimbursed NIU only for approximately half of the monies he received for commuting.
- Magaly Rodriguez. NIU tried to hide Rodriguez’ commuting costs by paying for her airfare directly on Hooker’s P-Card (NIU credit card) and arranging for NIU drivers for the transportation to/from the airport. Rodriguez reimbursed NIU for most of the airfare and airport transportation costs (here).
- Wally Pfeiffer. Small, but sneaky. When Pfeiffer’s 2nd invoice under his consulting contract exceeded his contractual limit ($19,999.99), he was paid through payroll for the exact amount of his invoice. When he was put on payroll, the part of his invoice that he billed for travel ($1,557) became commuting cost (here). As far as we know, he did not reimburse the University.
To reiterate, Nancy Dezort Suttenfield was the Chief Financial Officer. The travel department is part of the Finance Division of NIU—for which Suttenfield was responsible. So was Suttenfield ignorant of the state’s basic travel rules--or did she agree to deliberately circumvent the rules for her own gain?
Therefore, as these payments appear to be in violation of state travel rules, is the University going to request reimbursement from Suttenfield? The amount may be not huge, only $29,440, but at a time when the University is considering layoffs of its personnel, this may help keep one more employee paid.