The Ann Arbor Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the credit card records of WCC President Dr. Rose Bellanca. Records revealed a $2,873 meal paid for by Dr. Bellanca with her college-issued credit card. College officials alleged the cost had been “reimbursed” by the WCC Foundation. Officials subsequently claimed a donor had reimbursed the Foundation for the cost of the meal.
by P.D. Lesko
WCC PRESIDENT DR. Rose Bellanca’s use of her college-issued credit card has been the subject of discussion among the members of the college’s Board of Trustees. Candidates who ran for the Board commented to the media on the subject as well. In response to articles published by The Ann Arbor Independent as well as the Ann Arbor News, Dr. Bellanca found herself under fire for charging lavish dinners to taxpayers. She has also been criticized for using her college’s credit card for the purchase of alcohol. WCC’s credit card policy forbids this. The policy states: “The College will not pay for alcoholic beverages, fines, towing charges, parking tickets or traffic tickets of any sort.”
WCC Board President Dr. Stephen Gill commented on the president’s purchase of alcohol: “We’re OK if it’s part of the meal. I don’t know that we would encourage going to a bar for a drink. If it’s wine or beer with dinner, I think that’s very normal.”
Records show that Dr. Bellanca’s credit card has been used to purchase six-packs of beer as well as wine at a local liquor store.
Julie Kissel, a representative of the faculty union, reportedly said: “Of course it’s disappointing if we’re being held to a standard that’s different than the administration. That’s simply not correct. It’s wrong. Especially when these are tax dollars we’re talking about.”
Dr. Bellanca’s credit card records also revealed that in March 2014, she charged a $1,146 birthday party for WCC Trustee Diana McKnight Morton. College trustees each have $11,000 budgets for travel and conferences.
The March party menu included fig glazed sea scallops, Genghis Kahn lamb chops, Parisian stuffed chicken roulade, wine and a $75 birthday cake decorated with candles. There was a bartender who served up beer, wine and lemonade. There were pink napkins and white tablecloths.
Among the credit card records turned over to the The Ann Arbor Independent was a charge for a $2,873 meal at Vinology in June 2014. Records indicated that the WCC Foundation had “reimbursed” Dr. Bellanca for the entire charge.
The WCC Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity, funds student scholarships. According to the Foundation’s website, over 1,000 students are awarded scholarships under the auspices of the Foundation.
The maximum scholarship awarded is $800 to students who take 12 credit hours, according to the Foundation’s website. The Foundation’s website also states that each year, over $500,000 in scholarship money is awarded to WCC students.
Federal income tax returns indicate that between 2009 and 2013 the Foundation awarded no more than 836 scholarships to individuals.
Income tax returns filed by the Foundation between 2009 and 2013 reveal that contributions decreased from a high of $1.96 million prior to Dr. Bellanca’s hiring to $976,626. Over the course of Dr. Bellanca’s tenure Foundation donations have been as high as $1.2 million and as low as $765,000.
In Oct. of 2014, WCC officials announced that the Foundation had raised $8 million in cash and pledges in the 18 months between Mar. 2013 and Oct. 2014.
The Ann Arbor Independent has filed a Freedom of Information request for WCC Foundation records which document how much of the $8 million was donated in cash, how much in pledges and how much total, as of Jan. 2015, has been collected.
In July 2010, The Palm Beach Post published an article about the then-Northwood University Provost, Dr. Bellanca. In that 2010 article, reporter Carolyn DiPaolo writes, “Northwood University is serving a record number of new students this year. That’s good news for Rose Bellanca, who joined Northwood as Florida campus provost in 2008. Before that, she was president of St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Mich. During her six years there, she raised more than $12.5 million in private and public funds.”
In a copy of Dr. Bellanca’s 2011 WCC job application provided to The Ann Arbor Independent, Dr. Bellanca claimed she “rose over $25 million dollars in public and private fund raising” while at St. Clair Community College.
Officials at SCCC were unable to confirm that the amount raised by Dr. Bellanca while at SCCC corresponded to the $25 million listed on her WCC job application.
Similar discrepancies arose when the $2,873 “farewell” dinner for former WCC Foundation Director Wendy Lawson came to light. Documents turned over the paper noted the entire amount of the dinner paid for with Dr. Bellanca’s college credit card had been “reimbursed by the WCC Foundation.”
A copy of a check from the Foundation made payable to WCC includes the identifier “Lawson.”
When asked why a foundation whose mission it is to provide scholarships had paid for a “farewell” party for a staffer, attended by the college president, as well as other foundation employees, officials then alleged that the party was a “donor event.” Officials also said that the amount of the “farewell” party had been donated to the Foundation to cover the event shortly before the June 24, 2014 date on which the Foundation cut a check to the college to reimburse the cost.
The Ann Arbor Independent then submitted a Freedom of Information Act to obtain a record of donations to the Foundation made by cash, check or credit card in the month of June 2014, and documents related to any donation made to cover the cost of the $2,873 Vinology dinner. However, donor documents turned over to the newspaper by the WCC Foundation revealed that a single donor contributed $500 toward the cost of the event.
In an opinion piece about her own college credit card spending published by The Ann Arbor News in Oct. 2014, Dr. Bellanca asserted that “my expenditures are in line with my predecessors.” In Nov., The Ann Arbor News shot back in an editorial: “…while she published statements that say the spending was worth it to WCC, it’s not her conclusion to draw – that needs to be determined by the public and the public’s representatives on the board.”
Ann Arbor News reporter Matt Durr commented in response to Bellanca’s assertion in her op-ed that her spending was in line with that of her immediate predecessor, Dr. Larry Whitworth: “Over his final three years at WCC…Whitworth spent roughly $10,000 on food expenses in his final three years at WCC. In her first three years, Bellanca spent more than $40,000 at restaurants.”
According to WCC budget documents provided to The Ann Arbor Independent, Dr. Bellanca’s Office of the President has budgeted $140,000 for business meals, travel and club memberships. This is in addition to Dr. Bellanca’s $207,000 annual salary, paid auto expenses, a $15,000 housing allowance and $9,000 for discretionary spending.
In addition to the $2,873 Vinology party, taxpayers have treated Bellanca to other meals:
Nov. 20, 2012 – $365.59 at The Chop House in Ann Arbor for a dinner with four people.
May 16, 2013 – $744.43 at The Chop House for a dinner with trade partners.
July 26, 2013 – $508.97 at The Boathouse Restaurant in Traverse City for seven people.
Oct. 3, 2013 – $555.80 at The Palomino in Seattle, Washington for a dinner for 11 people.
Feb. 6, 2014 – $487.65 at Paesano’s in Ann Arbor for a dinner an unnamed number of people.
March 12, 2014 – $606.65 at The Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor for a dinner for 9 people.
April 5, 2014 – $868.15 at New Heights Restaurant in Washington, D.C. for a dinner for 12 people.