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Prosecutor scraps case against Bunting / Key is VMI lack of rules for discretionary fund

Saturday, September 18, 1999

Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

LEXINGTON -- VMI Superintendent Josiah S. Bunting III will not face prosecution for lavishly spending his donor-financed yearly allowance, because the school has no rules on how Bunting can spend such money, Lexington's prosecutor determined yesterday.

The decision not to prosecute removes a cloud that had hung over Bunting since June,

when the state auditor began questioning the way he spent thousands of dollars on everything from books and flowers to alcoholic beverages.

Despite yesterday's good news for Bunting, Lexington Commonwealth's Attorney Gordon Saunders said he will continue looking into whether the superintendent misused VMI resources when he had school staff members help him write a book.

Each year, VMI gives Bunting a discretionary fund of $100,000 from private donors. Bunting has ignored the spending cap, overspending the account by $120,000 since coming to the school four years ago. VMI's board of visitors has remained largely unconcerned about the overspending. Yesterday, Bruce Gottwald, president of the board, hailed Saunders' decision as a vindication of Bunting, saying it was "what the board of visitors and General Bunting believed all along."

The board has stood behind Bunting since the auditor's investigation became public knowledge, saying that the expenditures under scrutiny were meant to enhance the school's reputation.

"In fact, as I have previously said and the board concluded in its August 28th resolution, 'all of these funds have been spent in the best interest of VMI and its mission,' " Gottwald said in a written statement.

Of particular interest to the state auditor and Saunders was $46,776 Bunting spent on purchases not clearly identifiable as business expenses. Of that sum, $10,634 was paid for alcoholic beverages, $18,604 for flowers, $5,370 for gifts, and $12,168 for books, many of which were handed out as gifts.

Bunting was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment. His attorney, former acting attorney general Richard Cullen, said Bunting was "very pleased."

"This has obviously been a difficult time for General Bunting, but he's very stoic and a tough man," said Cullen, a lawyer with McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe.

Although he concluded Bunting's discretionary account constituted "public funds" and was therefore subject to general state spending guidelines, Saunders found that VMI had not established any specific procedures that Bunting could be said to have violated.

"Due to the fact that there was not a written policy and guidelines expressly adopted by the board of visitors and in full force and effect at the time of these questioned expenditures, there is no 'standard' to use in proving a knowing misuse or misappropriation of funds by General Bunting," Saunders wrote.

Citing the state auditor's report, Saunders also noted that VMI's administrative staff never questioned Bunting's purchases, though staff members occasionally stopped him from making purchases that would have violated state spending guidelines.

"All payments and reimbursements were submitted for approval through normal administrative procedures at VMI," Saunders said. "There was no effort to conceal payments or reimbursements."

Saunders said VMI's governing board will have to decide how much of the $46,776, if any, Bunting will have to reimburse. Any reimbursement seems unlikely, though, since the board already has declared the funds were properly spent on enhancing the school's image.

Gottwald said the VMI board will work with the state auditor of public accounts to write spending guidelines.

Saunders' decision to drop the investigation of Bunting's spending didn't leave Bunting off the hook. Saunders said he will continue to investigate the extent to which Bunting used VMI staff and resources to write his book, "An Education for Our Time," for which Bunting received a $50,000 advance.

In an unusual move, though, the state attorney general's office wasted no time in issuing an informal opinion aimed at heading off Saunders' investigation. In a letter to Gottwald, Deputy Attorney General Ashley Taylor Jr. said university employees aren't subject to the laws regarding "works produced on the job" that state employees must abide by, and universities generally expect their scholars to publish. Bunting, a professor of humanities, teaches classes at VMI.

University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, who has published 21 books and is working on two more, said any prosecution of Bunting "would be misguided." University professors depend on school equipment, staff and paid graduate students to help them research and write their books, he said.

"This is a point on which faculty throughout the state would be almost unanimous," Sabato said. "It's one of the few perks available to faculty. And it's not a personal perk, it's a manifestation of a college's desire to be nationally recognized. The books, if they're good, bring attention and high rankings to the university.

"If [Saunders'] view prevails, the best faculty in Virginia will leave the state so fast it will sound like a giant tornado."

How the revelations about Bunting's expenditures will affect donations to the school remains unknown. But VMI alumni have been grumbling.

"As long as Bunting is superintendent of VMI, I will contribute to no unrestricted funds," said Tom Wright, VMI class of '54 and a contributor. "It's obvious to me that, though he's broken no law . . . he misappropriated these funds as we've always understood they were supposed to be spent."

A Correction: In last week's update I mentioned several recent deaths. One was Larry Stone '92. I incorrectly stated that he was the captain of the basketball team. He was captain of the baseball team.

VMI Football: Keydets lost to East Tennessee State today 26 - 17. That drops VMI to 1 - 2 for the season. I listened to part of the game on the internet and it sounded like VMI was looking pretty good. Next up is an away game at Furman next Saturday which begins at 7:00 PM.

Notes from Last Week's Alumni Association Board Meeting

From the President of the Honor Court - Internet and the Honor Code: As one might imagine, the wiring of barracks for internet access has raised a couple honor questions. The following are now considered violations of the Honor Code:
1) Accessing porno websites by anyone under 18. Seems that by entering these websites you are stipulating that you are 18. However, it seems that it is a boneable offense for anyone if they are caught in one of those websites. Even if they were just visiting the site to read the articles.
2) Accessing the internet using someone else's password without permission.
3) Purchasing term papers, etc. through the internet. Seems that for about $50 you can purchase a paper on just about any subject.

From Regimental Commander Kelly Underwood - Class System, etc.
Rats are doing fine as is the class system. Indicated that the GC sheet has been pared. First class has been asked to enforce key privileges. Seems to be working.

From Gen Bunting

Margaret Jones Tate Honored: During last Saturday's meeting Margaret was recognized for her 20+ years of service to the VMI Alumni Association. It was a great tribute to a great lady.

From Jeff Morgan - VMI Keydet Club:

From Paul Maini - VMI Alumni Association:

Next week I'll provide notes from the various committee reports.

The Bomb Has A Longer Fuse: I learned that the VMI yearbook (aka The Bomb) was distributed on September 13. September 13? Yep, seems that The Bomb is not being distributed right before graduation as in the past. They're gone to a year round publishing cycle. The extra time allows for the inclusion of New Market and graduation ceremonies. This also affords extra time to make any revisions, etc. Copies of The Bomb will be mailed to those who graduated last year. I understand that this approach is very similar to what the academies do.

Web Master: Perhaps you've noticed that the VMI and VMI Alumni web sites have a new look to them. David Somer is VMI's new web master. Also, and speaking of web site kinda stuff, I received the following e-mail from one of our participants.

You might be interested to know that Mr Pat Acosta, computer guru of the alumni association, has offered his services for each class agent to open a class web page off of the new VMIAA page. Expect more announcements as the class pages get established.

We were also offered internet services by other class agents who are well versed in the technology. The best news for me was that class notes and nearly real time messages may be available on the class sites when they are established. I will pass more info when it is available.

Oh Those Crazy Thirds: The following was found in the Electronic Turnouts...

The Thirds were placed on confinement by the First Class for going Postal during the first Pep Rally and throwing a number of lovely items on Rats as they (the Rats) ran pell-mell around the stoops in strange and wonderful "uniforms," as Rats have done at Pep Rallies for years. It got nasty, it got dangerous, and it got a tad "bloody" when Thirds started throwing glass of some sort around. At least one Rat received a superficial laceration as a result of flying glass.

"Third Clasmen are possesses of only one well-developed character trait -- that of waywardness" - MG Francis H. Smith

They proved Ol' Specs right again, and got put on confinement by the First Class for their trouble ... also lost their privilege to interact with Rats until the First Class decides to return said privilege to them.

The Rats are aware that such action may well not redound to their overall long-term benefit whenever the Third Stoop Sallyport Shark Tank is re-invigorated !!

No PT's directly associated with the GC confinement ... of course failure to sign sheet can put one on the road as a result ...

That's it for this week!

Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75

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