|Updated: 9/02/2011 6:01 am
||Published: 9/01/2011 8:35 am
CONWAY, Ark. (AP) - The president of the University of Central Arkansas apologized repeatedly Thursday to trustees who were angry that they weren't told a company's offer to renovate his home came with the condition that its food services contract be renewed for seven years.
Allen C. Meadors told trustees in a hastily called meeting that he thought trustees would have assumed that Aramark's offer of a $700,000 grant came with strings attached, based on previous dealings between Aramark and the Conway school.
One trustee, Rush Harding III, said he was still "flabbergasted" even after Meadors' apologies.
"Nobody thought it was pertinent?" Harding asked.
Meadors and board chairman Scott Roussel said they knew the terms before the board voted last week to commission an architect to determine needed renovations for Meadors' school-provided residence. Other trustees said they didn't know.
The trustees unanimously voted Thursday to rescind last week's decision. They did not immediately vote on a request from Meadors to rebid the entire food services contract, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Meadors said in an earlier interview he was told grants from companies like Aramark commonly came with similar conditions.
"It just didn't dawn on me ... that we would need to make a point of that issue," Meadors said. "That was wrong. That was my mistake, and I accept it totally."
Three trustees continued to question Meadors' actions Thursday.
"We need to be 100 percent transparent in everything that we do," trustee Victor Green said, adding that he hoped the incident would serve as a lesson.
Kay Hinkle said she was confused when Meadors and Roussel called Aramark's offer a "gift," saying she didn't think gifts came with conditions.
"You are correct," Roussel replied. "That was the wrong wording to it."
After a short public meeting, Green asked for a private session to discuss personnel matters. Asked if Meadors' job was in jeopardy, Harding replied, "I would hope not."
The university has reached similar deals with soft drink and food service vendors in the past.
In 2005, Aramark agreed to give UCA $1.9 million for capital improvements - money the former school president, Lu Hardin, said would be used for an addition to the student center.
Aramark then added vendors to the student center at its own cost.
In cases such as those, "everybody knew on the front end," Harding told the Log Cabin Democrat.
Meadors, who became president in 2009, told The Associated Press Thursday that it didn't matter to him whether his home was renovated.
"This is my opinion: If they want to spend money on the president's house, having private money being used is better than public money, when possible," Meadors said. "I personally thought this was a very kindly offer."
"There is no way that you can win with a university house," he added. "And that's frustrating."
In a statement from Aramark, officials said that as part of its partnerships with college and university clients, "we occasionally make investments to help finance improvements or renovations to facilities that support the campus community.
"The terms and conditions of these investments are fully detailed in our contracts."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)