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Student: Investigation into Ga. university system is 'my own version of Watergate'

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When news that the college he attended had developed a $16 million budget deficit in May 2012, David Schick knew it was the big story he had wanted. 

As editor of The Collegian, the student newspaper at Georgia Perimeter College, Schick began investigating what led to the supposed budget deficit that resulted in the termination of former college president Anthony Tricoli and 282 other GPC employees. 

"At times it feels like it's my own version of Watergate," said Schick, who has sued the university system for blocking his investigation. 

Schick said the Board of Regents, the university system's governing body, has charged exorbitant prices for records and failed to turn over documents. 

"I don't think anyone goes this far without having something to hide," said Schick. 

Schick reported on a state audit which found finance officials with the college hadn't provided former president Tricoli with correct budget figures for several years.

Tricoli's attorney, Stephen Humphreys, said in a statement to CBS Atlanta News "the supposed budget deficit ... was merely a pretext for dismissing Tricoli and maligning him in the press."

Schick said the documents USG officials failed to turn over include e-mails between finance officials that could prove or disprove Humphreys' claim that the $16 million shortfall was nothing more than a manufactured crisis. 

Schick has gotten the support of the Student Press Law Center, which advocates for student journalists. 

"Hundreds of millions of dollars are passing through these institutions with almost no one watching," said SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte.  "People like David Schick need full compliance with open record laws so they can be our watchdogs."

LoMonte has helped find an attorney who represents Schick for free in his lawsuit against the Board of Regents. 

"I can only speculate there's something really bad in those records that reflects negatively on the management of the university system," said LoMonte.

Although he's transferred to the University of Georgia, Schick continues investigating the GPC budget crisis and the University System of Georgia; providing updates on his website

"I guess it is a David and Goliath thing," said Schick. "This is all about holding government accountable." 

Statement from Anthony Tricoli's attorney:

Jeff, the evidence we have, including reports by the Board of Regents' own auditors, indicate that the supposed budget deficit at Georgia Perimeter College was merely a pretext for dismissing former President Anthony Tricoli and maligning him in the press.

In fact, when Tricoli first took the helm of Georgia Perimeter College in 2006, his supervisor informed him that the BOR had voted to close the Lawrenceville Campus to make way for the new institution which came to be known as GGC.  The closure of GPC's Lawrenceville Campus left the college with 7,000 less students and with a $30 million shortfall in earnings due to the loss of those 7,000 students.  In order to balance the loss of $30 million, Tricoli was told to create a layoff plan to release approximately 300 employees. Instead, under Tricoli's management, enrollment and revenues were more than doubled so that a budget reserve of $19 million was actually created without laying off a single employee or closing any facilities.

Never in the history of Tricoli's tenure was there any mention of a budget deficit in budget reviews, Regents' budget oversight, or Tricoli's performance evaluations--until it was reported immediately prior to his forced resignation that there was a deficit in amounts that varied from $8 million to $30 million.  Subsequent state audits were not able to ascertain either any specific deficit amount or source of the supposed problem.

In past cases, it is documented in the record that the Regents have relied on a specific provision in the State Tort Claims Act, giving the State absolute immunity from defamation claims, to defame University system employees with impunity.

Stephen Humphreys
Counsel for former GPC President Anthony Tricoli and UGA Professor Dezso Benedek

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