WCC President Repays $4,000 Dinner Tab

Whitworth says trustees not to blame for retreat expense

Washtenaw Community College President Larry Whitworth says he is taking full responsibility for $4,000 spent by the college on a dinner for its board of trustees annual retreat in early March. At a press briefing earlier today at his office on the WCC campus, Whitworth said he planned the retreat and therefore he – not the WCC board members – should take the blame for the expense. It has become an issue in trustee David Rutledge’s bid for the 54th District state House seat.

As first reported by The Chronicle, the board of trustees two-day retreat at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit cost a total of $9,910.70, including dinner at the hotel’s 24grille restaurant and $5,887.43 in hotel charges. WCC’s paper The Washtenaw Voice later reported that the dinner bill included $573 worth of wine.

Whitworth said the cost of the meal was higher than anticipated due to the fact that he missed a detail on the menu that 24grille faxed him before the retreat. Specifically, he didn’t read the fine print stating that the restaurant would charge $100 per person for the meal, not including tax and gratuity. Whitworth said he expected to pay about $2,000 and was shocked when he saw the bill.

Whitworth said he wanted to assert his culpability in response to a May 26 AnnArbor.com article, which was based on a press release issued by Lonnie Scott, a Democratic candidate for the 54th District state representative seat. Scott criticized fellow candidate and WCC board of trustees treasurer David Rutledge for attending the retreat dinner, calling the $4,023.87 bill excessive and a waste of taxpayer money.

The board has also received criticism for spending an extravagant amount on a dinner just before its members voted to increase WCC’s tuition by nearly 10% – or $7 per credit hour.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Whitworth stressed that Rutledge and the other board members are in no way responsible for the cost of the meal and were not aware of the expense at the time of the retreat. He called blaming the trustees “wholly and totally inappropriate.”

“I thought it was very, very unfortunate that Lonnie Scott would somehow think David Rutledge was responsible,” Whitworth said. “I want to take full responsibility.”

Whitworth also emphasized that the dinner was business-oriented. He said it’s important to isolate the trustees away from their other obligations once a year for the retreat so that they can concentrate on important matters pertaining to the college. He also defended the tuition increase, saying that it was necessary to maintain the quality of the college’s vocational and technical programs. He noted that the college will lose about $3.5 million in local tax revenue this year and therefore needs to raise tuition rates.

Whitworth said that in order to remedy his mistake, he has personally reimbursed the college for the dinner with a $4,024 check. He said he wasn’t pressured by the board of trustees in any way, and the reimbursement was entirely his idea.

“This is my error,” Whitworth said. “If you’re going to be responsible, there ought to be a consequence.”

The Chronicle initially reported the dinner and other expenses in the context of covering the March 5-6 retreat, where the trustees and staff discussed the possibility of opening a satellite campus in Ann Arbor – possibly in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library. Other topics included financial updates, a discussion about tuition increases, a briefing on student demographic data, curriculum changes, and building projects.

Following the retreat, The Chronicle submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for expenses related to the two-day event. In addition to the $4,023 dinner tab, the college paid $5,887.43 in hotel charges that included individual guest charges, catering and Internet charges. [.pdf file of receipts from Westin Book Cadillac, in response to a FOIA request]

About the writer: Helen Nevius is a freelance writer for The Ann Arbor Chronicle.


  1. By Joe
    June 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm | permalink

    Is Whitworth this observant when signing all the contracts that come to his desk? Stating that you just didn’t read the terms isn’t exactly a way to win my confidence in all of your other declarations about financial necessity.

  2. By Jack F
    June 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm | permalink

    “At a press briefing earlier today at his office on the WCC campus, Whitworth said he planned the retreat and therefore he – not the WCC board members – should take the blame for the expense. It has become an issue in trustee David Rutledge’s bid for the 54th District state House seat.”

    I am shocked, SHOCKED! A wine bill for $573?? I’m guessing candidate Rutledge will now claim he tasted the wine but didn’t swallow, so it’s all ok.

  3. By Bob Martel
    June 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm | permalink

    I find President Whitworth’s action to address this controversy to be honorable and above and beyond the call of duty. It is not often that you see someone admit to a possible lapse in judgment and then “make it right.”

  4. June 2, 2010 at 8:24 pm | permalink

    With regard to #3, I guess I’m a bit more cynical … the need to pay out of pocket for items like this is part of the justification of paying CEOs ridiculously high salaries. I’d rather see WCC eat the $4000 this time and cut his salary by the same amount …

  5. June 3, 2010 at 9:34 am | permalink

    FYI, the PDF link at the end of this article is incorrect. The correct URL is [link]

  6. By Mary Morgan
    June 3, 2010 at 10:00 am | permalink

    Thanks, Phil – not sure what happened there. I’ve made the fix.

  7. By Bob Martel
    June 3, 2010 at 10:11 am | permalink

    Fred, I’m not 100% certain where the WCC president’s salary currently stands (it was about $160k in the 2004-2005 year, so I imagine that it is around $175k currently.) That does not seem inappropriate for someone running a $100,000,000 organization of that complexity. High School principals in the Ann Arbor district are in the $120k to $140k range and their responsibilities are more limited than is that of the president of a community college. Not sure what the AA Superintendent of Schools makes, but I imagine that it would be in a similar range to that of the WCC president. Don’t even get me started on the salaries of 4 year college presidents! If you are looking for outrage, that’s where you’ll find it!

  8. June 3, 2010 at 10:32 am | permalink

    When I read articles like this, my sympathy goes out to the trustees who bring their skill, experience and countless volunteer hours to these uncompensated positions with the college — only to be vilified for the perks that come along with giving up one of their weekends, at no pay, to work on its business.

    Granted, the cost of the dinner was absurd, especially the $100 per person charge for a banquet room. The meeting planners could and should have negotiated it down — or gone elsewhere for dinner.

    But it seems that many commenters on the story, here and elsewhere, wouldn’t be satisfied had the trustees supped anywhere more posh than Denny’s. And a couple of glasses of wine along with dinner, paid for by the public? Heaven forbid!

    Is it any wonder that it’s difficult to find skilled, successful community members to fill lower-level volunteer and elective public positions? Most people of the caliber we’d like to see governing our colleges would rather enjoy a quiet Saturday dinner with family, friends, and wine — but without the tut-tut crowd commenting over their shoulders.

  9. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 3, 2010 at 12:06 pm | permalink

    Sorry Joel, not sure about your buddies, but in my circles, the sympathy goes out to folks who save every nickle and dime to send their kids to WCC, who have been hurt by the double digit unemployment rates and eccomomic climate and are trying to learn job skills for a better life. You know, Joel, the ones who actually EAT at Denny’s. This entire fiasco reaks of arrogance and is symbolic of the detachment some of the members of the board and the WCC President seem to have, to even be in such a situation in the first place. Call it tu-tu all you like, but this was wrong and should never happen again with my tax dollars.

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm | permalink

    Eh…tut tut..not tu-tu. Lol.

  11. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm | permalink

    Let’s not forget what some of the public outrage is about:

    “The board has also received criticism for spending an extravagant amount on a dinner just before its members voted to increase WCC’s tuition by nearly 10% – or $7 per credit hour.”

  12. By Mary Morgan
    June 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm | permalink

    As WCC president, Larry Whitworth receives a salary of $198,373 and the same retirement and health care benefits as all full-time WCC employees. Two percent of his annual salary is received as deferred compensation. UM president Mary Sue Coleman receives a total compensation of $783,850, including a base salary of $553,500.

  13. June 3, 2010 at 8:21 pm | permalink

    Mary — thanks for the info on Larry’s salary. He is a bit underpaid relative to the high rolling entertainment he arranges!

    No one is saying that trustees should eat at Denny’s, but it’s offensive for them to eat at somewhere so expensive. The restaurant isn’t even in Washtenaw County!

  14. June 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm | permalink

    I’m not sure I believe that he is underpaid… if anything, perhaps well overpaid. The average Community College president salary in 2006 was $153,684 with a range of $123,889 to $213,879. Honestly, I believe that even an elaborate dinner at Denny’s isn’t something that should be paid for by public funds.

    I think Mr. Zimmerman hit the point here. How does a community college president justify spending so much money OUTSIDE the community? To take money from one community’s tax payers and spend it on a dinner is one thing. To not even patronize business within the community is even worse.

  15. June 4, 2010 at 8:56 am | permalink

    I’d still like to know how many were at the retreat. I can’t find anywhere on the receipts or in either Chronicle story that says. There are seven trustees plus the President makes eight. Were any missing, or were there extras? If it’s 8, that’s about $1200 per person.

    My own employer, the University of Michigan, does not reimburse for wine at dinner.

  16. By Helen
    June 4, 2010 at 10:38 am | permalink

    Jim, Whitworth said there were 24 people at the dinner. I think only the trustees and the president stayed at the hotel overnight, though.

  17. By ScratchingmyHead
    June 6, 2010 at 7:38 am | permalink

    I have no sympathy for those who decide to run for a board membership. No one forces them to run and they accept these responsibilities knowing there is no compensation for their time. These board members are treated to other perks of this position such as trips to conferences and other events paid for by the community college. The problem I see with the board is that you have some members who have been on the board for so long they begin to act as though they are entitled to certain perks. Maybe there should be term limits for board members just like we have for our state legislators.