August 19th, 2011 7:21 am | Brent Walth News |

BREAKING NEWS: Audit Says Mike Burton, While at Portland State University, Took a $4,500 European Trip to Attend Conferences That Didn't Exist

mike_burtonMike Burton

Mike Burton, a former state legislator and chair of Metro, took a $4,500 trip to Europe while a top Portland State University official last fall, claiming he went to attend conferences on higher education.

But WW has obtained an audit that alleges the conferences never existed or didn't take place during his 11-day trip to London and Paris.

The special Oregon University System audit says Burton, then a vice provost at PSU, gave misleading answers during their investigation, and documents provided to justify his publicly funded European trip appeared to be altered.

"We concluded that there was not a valid conference to justify PSU's reimbursement of Mr. Button's European trip," the audit says. "While Mr. Burton may have attended one to two business meetings, he was unable to account for the majority of the trip itinerary."

PSU is now demanding Burton repay the cost of the trip and is referring its findings to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

PSU is expected to release a second audit today that is critical of the way the program Burton oversaw, the School of Extended Studies, was run during his tenure.

The auditors also said emails sent by Burton show he set up the trip in part to visit family in Europe.  Auditors found that Burton wrote to an official in Europe to say he was looking for a conference he could attend to help justify his trip. According to the audit, Burton wrote, "My stepdaughter lives in Surrey and her 50th birthday is coming up in September and I'm looking for an excuse to visit."

Burton tells WW that he never intended to mislead anyone or provide false information about his trip. He said he did attend meetings in England and one day of a conference in France. He said he spent three days in Paris ill in bed at his hotel.

Burton says he offered to reimburse PSU for any additional expenses in June. He said the trip cost PSU $3,100 and he thinks the university is asking him to reimburse it for vacation time.

“Some of this trip should have been reported as personal time,” Burton said. “I didn’t make that clear, and I regret that.”

Burton, 70, served two terms as chair of the Metro council, from 1994 to 2002, and before that served in the Oregon House representing North Portland. He retired July 1 as vice provost overseeing PSU’s School of Extended Studies.

The audit reveals that Burton was told on June 14 he would be placed on administrative leave, after he gave inconsistent statements about his whereabouts and travel during the European trip. Burton resigned the next day. Burton tells WW he was planning on retiring anyway and that questions were presented to him just as he was leaving PSU.

Burton took the trip from September 28 to October 9, 2010. According to the audit, Burton claimed in interviews and in reimbursement records that he attended a conference in Paris sponsored by the European Distance and E-Learning Network beginning Sept. 30, 2010.

The audit says that a brochure Burton used as evidence of the conference turned out to come from an entirely different event: “The content of the September 30, 2010, agenda appears to have been copied from an agenda for a conference offered on June 7, 2010 by a different organization: the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.”

Burton says he attended another conference in Paris, but auditors found that the conference had taken place more than two weeks before Burton went to Paris—and that the invitation he submitted as evidence appeared to have had its dates altered.

The audit said Burton claimed to have attended part of this second conference "although he was not able to provide documentation to support this statement other than the conference invitation that appears to have been altered."

Burton tells WW he changed the dates himself, and told PSU he had done so. “I thought the dates of the conference had been changed, and I wrote in new dates to reflect that,” Burton says. “I thought those were the dates the conference actually happened.” Burton says he later learned he was wrong.

The conference actually took place more than two weeks before Burton went to Paris, according to the audit.

In the emails, the audit says, Burton told relatives in Europe he would have plenty of time on his hands to go to “a football or rugby game, a musical, and taking the family out to dinner.”

UPDATE: PSU President Wim Wiewel issued this statement Friday about the Burton audit:

"We take seriously the findings of the audits and are taking aggressive steps to respond. We have made staffing changes, tightened policies and procedures in the School of Extended Studies and will continue to improve business practices and controls. We are seeking reimbursement from Mike Burton for the European travel expenses identified in the audit and have referred our concerns to the Oregon Ethics Commission. We do not tolerate university employees using public funds for private trips or any other inappropriate purpose."

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