Presidents with Benefits

— The California state auditor has come out swinging against lax oversight of top executives' pay and fringe benefits at the California State University system, including San Diego State and its president, Stephen Weber. Issued earlier this month, the audit report calls for stricter limits on compensation to current and former university employees, singling out Weber for doling out cash from a university foundation to help pay a top coach's income taxes. Noting that "a head coach at the San Diego campus received supplemental compensation from a campus foundation totaling $505,000 in fiscal year 2006-07" and that "the campus foundation also provided supplemental compensation of $280,713 to another head coach in fiscal year 2006-07," the auditors concluded that state university-controlled nonprofit foundations operating largely out of the public eye -- such as the San Diego State University Research Foundation and the SDSU-controlled Campanile Foundation -- have become virtual cookie jars for campus officials to dip into for dubious expenditures.

In one case, the audit says, Weber used $6449 from a campus foundation to pay a onetime "bonus" to head basketball coach Steve Fisher, which Fisher then used to pay federal income taxes on both the bonus itself and on an earlier $10,218 reimbursement for moving and house-hunting expenses. Weber told auditors that though he had authorized the Fisher payment in the belief that the university had made an oral promise to pay the taxes, he left details to aides. Noting that "the coach's employment agreement clearly stated his obligation to pay withholdings and taxes due on applicable bonuses," the audit said that arbitrary exemptions to the university's compensation policy such as Weber granted Fisher had created "an environment that allows questionable reimbursements of relocation costs."

The auditors also investigated pay and perks for Weber himself and his lieutenants, finding that university foundations funded many of them. Weber, who is paid $272,214 a year and gets a $12,000 annual car allowance along with a state-funded "entertainment" allowance of $300 a month, resides for free in a house paid for by a campus foundation, which also may "supplement" his entertainment fund for "community relations activities."

The audit reviewed "compensation and employment inducements" given to 76 "highly paid employees" of the state university system. At SDSU, in addition to Weber, the employees included head football coach Chuck Long, who currently gets $200,856 from the state and another $505,000 in foundation money, for a total salary of $705,856. Basketball coach Fisher's base pay of $208,620 combined with the foundation supplement totals $489,333. In addition, Fisher's wife gets $2000 to travel with him to games, and he has full use of two athletic department "courtesy cars," value unstated.

Doug Myrland, general manager of KPBS, the university-run public broadcasting arm whose programming has been in a downsizing mode of late, is paid $192,744 and is provided with a $11,178 foundation-funded car allowance along with a $100,000 life insurance policy. Psychology professor Edward P. Riley receives base pay of $160,140, supplemented by a campus foundation-funded research grant of $76,177 and "research support" of $38,327, for a total of $274,644, according to the audit.

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