The University of Louisville Foundation’s board of directors voted unanimously at its meeting on Tuesday to fire its chief financial officer, who had been on paid leave from his position since at least June 9.
As first reported by IL, CFO Jason Tomlinson has been on paid leave at the foundation since at least the day after Alvarez & Marsal released its audit report, which found that wasteful spending and bad investments at the foundation under the administration of former UofL President James Ramsey had seriously depleted the value of the university’s endowment that it managed.
Last month, the foundation’s interim executive director Keith Sherman would not comment on why Tomlinson was on paid leave, while board chair Diane Medley said his leave was “mutually agreed upon.” Tomlinson’s attorney, Don Cox, said at the time that his client was only on vacation, yet Sherman told IL last week that Tomlinson remained on paid leave.
After a nearly two-hour closed executive session at Tuesday’s meeting, the foundation board voted unanimously to immediately terminate the employment of Tomlinson, without any discussion. Medley was asked several times by reporters after the meeting to give details on why Tomlinson was fired, but she declined, saying the foundation does not comment on personnel matters.
The firing of Tomlinson — who was third in command at the foundation in the Ramsey administration — follows the June 21 firing of Ramsey’s top assistant, Kathleen Smith, who had been on paid leave since last September and whose contract was set to expire at the end of July. Ramsey resigned under pressure last summer as president of the university, and then from his position as president of the foundation in September. The attorneys for Ramsey and Smith have strongly criticized or downplayed the findings of the A&M report, with Smith’s attorney Ann Oldfather calling her firing a “cowardly failure” by the foundation, which is using her as “a fall girl” for its troubles.
Asked if she thought this was the end of foundation employees being placed on leave or fired, Medley said: “I think this completes it.”
Told about Tomlinson’s firing by the foundation’s board, his attorney Cox told IL that he was shocked by the move, as foundation attorneys had been actively negotiating a buyout for his client’s contract.
“That’s news to me, particularly since they had been offering me several hundred thousand dollars as late as yesterday,” said Cox. “Somebody ought to ask (Medley) why they offered me all of that money yesterday.”
Cox added that Tomlinson had been seeking other employment outside of the UofL Foundation for months, “because who wants to be in that mess out there,” but was confident an agreement would be reached with the foundation so that they would “give us a big recommendation and pay us a bunch of money and we’d just go our separate ways.”
“I’m shocked that a public agency would act in such a precipitous fashion,” said Cox, adding that a buyout was the foundation’s idea, not his. “But there’s been a lot of precipitous action going on with respect to the whole UofL issue, and it’s certainly not reflective of the way I would expect a public agency to act.”
Asked if his client is considering a lawsuit against the foundation due to his firing, Cox said he would have additional comments on Wednesday.
Tomlinson was mentioned prominently throughout the A&M report on the foundation and agreed to be interviewed by its investigators. The report documented several of Tomlinson’s email exchanges, particularly discussions about the foundation liquidating certain endowment assets for spending that was not budgeted, the foundation’s attempt to borrow money from the university in order to avoid liquidating such assets, and the foundation’s unsustainable rate of spending.
The office of Attorney General Andy Beshear recently indicated that its criminal division is launching a probe of the foundation in the wake of the A&M audit, requesting material from the university, including emails and documentation authorizing the compensation of Ramsey, Smith and Tomlinson.
Both the university and foundation board have created committees to further investigate the findings within the audit — even authorizing additional payments for A&M to continue its work — which might culminate in a civil lawsuit against former employees or board members of the foundation if enough wrongdoing is found.
Medley said the foundation continues to try to win back the confidence of donors through the reforms the organization has enacted since last fall, as it was revealed in Tuesday’s meeting that gifts to the university in the fiscal year that just ended fell by roughly $21 million from the previous year. She said the actions the foundation took today was another sign that it was initiating “a new start,” as “those top three individuals are no longer employees of the foundation. And as we said before, we are working to change the culture and change the processes that have gone on here.”