Four oddities from the audit of ISU president's weapons policy compliance

Iowa State University’s Office of Internal Audit has completed its review of “the storage and transportation of weapons to ensure current practices are in compliance with ISU’s Firearms and Other Weapons policy.”

ISU officials requested the audit after Bleeding Heartland reported in November that President Steven Leath and some companions on his hunting trips neither requested nor received written authorization to transport weapons on university aircraft, as required by ISU policy.

In their brief report on what appears to be an open-and-shut case of the president not following the rules, internal auditors managed to create a lot of wiggle room. ISU staff have not responded to my follow-up questions or provided documents that could address inconsistencies in the new official narrative.

PASSIVE VOICE STRIKES AGAIN

The first section of the report (enclosed in full below) noted that “due to the timing of the request” from ISU administration, Internal Audit was unable to consider this issue as part of the larger ISU Flight Service and University Owned Aircraft audit completed in December. Auditors then explained,

The Firearms and Other Weapons Policy states that the possession or use of weapons is prohibited on campus and in the course of university-related activities unless authorized through the firearms and other weapons application process. The Director of ISU police and the Senior Vice President for University Services have final approval concerning any use of firearms or other weapons. […]

Additionally, the policy includes information about the transportation of weapons. The unauthorized transportation, use, or storage of any firearms, weapons and/or explosives is prohibited. In extenuating circumstances, a request for authorization for transporting firearms, weapons and/or explosives must be submitted in writing and approved by the Office of Risk Management or the Department of Public Safety.

In October, I asked for documents including any requests from Leath or other passengers who flew on ISU’s Beechcraft King Air or Cirrus SR22 for authorization to transport firearms or archery equipment on university aircraft, as well as any documents approving or denying such requests. ISU’s Public Records Office informed me in early November, “We have no records responsive to this request.”

In other words, no one asked for or received written permission to bring weapons onto ISU’s planes. However, the internal auditors avoided reaching that obvious conclusion (pages 2 and 3):

Documentation substantiating a request of written approval for a waiver to the Firearms and Other Weapons Policy for the University President regarding the storage and transportation of weapons could not be provided. Currently, weapons are stored in the University President’s on-campus residence at the Knoll and have been transported on university-owned aircraft multiple times. Management from the Office of University Counsel and the Department of Public Safety stated an inspection was completed at the Knoll by the Department of Public Safety to review the method of storage of weapons. Based on safety concerns being satisfied, management discussions took place to verbally approve the University President’s storage of weapons at the Knoll. At the time this approval was verbally discussed, consideration was not given to the transportation of weapons on university-owned aircraft.

Documentation of the waiver to the Firearms and Other Weapons policy could not be provided and neither the Office of Risk Management nor the Department of Public Safety had documentation of receiving requests to authorize the transportation of weapons on university-owned aircraft. On January 11, 2017, the Office of Internal Audit received a written waiver from the Senior Vice President of University Services for the continuation of weapons storage at the Knoll and for the transportation of weapons in university-owned aircraft in accordance with federal aviation regulations.

Reading that section, I recalled a particularly irritating passage from the larger audit of Leath’s airplane use, discussed in point 8 of this post:

The ISU Office of Risk Management was not notified at the time of the hard landing. If the Office of Risk Management had been informed, the insurance carrier would have been notified immediately to record the date of the event, regardless of whether an insurance claim was to be filed. The Office of Risk Management was also not consulted or involved in the decision to not file an insurance claim regarding the damages sustained. […]

ISU’s Insurance, Buildings, and Property policy states, “all losses or damage to university property must be reported to the Office of Risk Management.”

Passive voice obscured some facts: Leath didn’t comply with ISU’s Insurance, Buildings, and Property policy, didn’t notify the Office of Risk Management about his July 2015 hard landing in ISU’s Cirrus, didn’t inform the insurance carrier promptly, didn’t involve the Office of Risk Management in deciding whether to file an insurance claim, and so on.

Leath later declared in a public statement to his governing board, “As the preliminary audit showed, and the comprehensive audit has now confirmed, I did not violate any policy or break any laws.”

Expect similar unfounded claims of vindication after Board of Regents members receive and discuss the weapons review on February 22, because:

AUDITORS DID NOT SCRUTINIZE LEATH’S “DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK” EXCUSE

I was surprised to hear Leath tell the Board of Regents on December 12,

With regard to the weapons policy–it is my understanding that General Counsel provided a report to the audit team. When I first became president, I sought advice from then-university counsel on the storage and transport of firearms, and I fully complied with that guidance which included an inspection by the Chief of Police.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here (point 11), ISU officials didn’t bring up any such guidance when I sought records related to bringing weapons on university airplanes.

In December, I requested a copy of the document ISU general counsel had provided to Internal Audit. Both ISU and the Board of Regents rejected that request, citing an exception to Iowa’s open records law for attorney-client privilege. I hadn’t asked to see any document ISU’s then-counsel Paul Tanaka may have sent to Leath in 2012. I was requesting the “report to the audit team” from ISU’s current general counsel, Michael Norton, which by Leath’s account discussed his compliance with university policy on firearms. I don’t understand how such a document could be considered confidential legal advice, but Regents spokesperson Josh Lehman refused to comment on its substance, other than to say “the communication contains attorney-client privileged information.”

The “Management Response” to the new audit (page 3) admits no wrongdoing by Leath. On the contrary (emphasis added):

We do feel it important to note that it was the University President’s understanding that the waiver approved by then-Senior Vice President for Business and Finance and then-University Counsel was applicable to the entire Firearms and other Weapons policy, including both storage and transportation of firearms. As such, transportation of firearms on university aircraft involving the University President was believed to have been done in compliance with university policy. We now realize the university policy is ambiguous and requires clarification with regard to transportation of firearms; we plan to update the policy accordingly. […]

The University President and then-University Counsel are confident that then-Senior Vice President for Business and Finance created documentation of the waiver. However, following the retirements of these two senior administrators (and Director of ISU Police), the documentation could not be recovered. As a result of this and the hiring of new administrators, the University President requested a new waiver, which was approved and properly documented by the Senior Vice President for University Services pursuant to university policy.

What “waiver approved by then-Senior Vice President for Business and Finance and then-University Counsel”? Just a few paragraphs earlier, the audit confirmed:

• there is no evidence Leath ever requested such a waiver, or that long-serving Senior Vice President Warren Madden or attorney Tanaka ever approved one; and

• “management discussions took place to verbally approve the University President’s storage of weapons at the Knoll.” Auditors repeated the word “verbally” in the following sentence, indicating that their research showed permission for Leath to keep firearms at his residence was never put in writing.

Leath asserted in December that he “sought advice from then-university counsel [in 2012] on the storage and transport of firearms.” ISU now claims “transportation of firearms on university aircraft involving the University President was believed to have been done in compliance with university policy.”

Yet the very same page of the new audit makes clear: “At the time this approval [to store weapons at the Knoll] was verbally discussed, consideration was not given to the transportation of weapons on university-owned aircraft.” In plain English: it didn’t occur to Leath, ISU Chief of Police Jerry Stewart, or other senior officials that ISU’s policy prohibited bringing firearms or bowhunting equipment on a university plane.

The weapons audit says nothing about other passengers who traveled with Leath on several hunting trips. Responding to my initial inquiry, ISU found no record that any of them had requested or received permission to bring firearms or archery equipment on board the King Air. The lack of such documents supports the inference that Leath didn’t realize university policy required written authorization to travel with weapons.

Auditors let pass without comment this brazen attempt to rewrite history: “University President and then-University Counsel are confident that then-Senior Vice President for Business and Finance created documentation of the waiver. However, following the retirements of these two senior administrators (and Director of ISU Police), the documentation could not be recovered.”

On what basis are Leath and Tanaka “confident” that Warren “created documentation of the waiver”? Did anyone from Internal Audit run that assertion by Warren? Although he retired last summer after 50 years at ISU, he still lives in the area and works for the university on a volunteer basis.

ISU has a procedure for maintaining records after staff move on, so the retirements of Tanaka, Madden, and Stewart should not have caused a waiver to mysteriously vanish. Anyway, if Leath had ever received written permission to store weapons at his residence or bring them on ISU planes, the president’s office should have a copy of that document, whether or not the person who signed it is still on campus.

NO CLARITY ON WEAPONS INSPECTIONS

The weapons audit and Leath’s previous public comments leave the impression that the ISU chief of police inspected the president’s firearms storage area at the Knoll once, early in Leath’s tenure. I’ve been trying without success to find out whether anyone conducted a new inspection before the current senior vice president issued the written waiver ISU provided to Internal Audit on January 11.

Immediately after reading the auditors’ report last Tuesday, I sent Leath’s communications assistant Megan Landolt a number of questions. Among other things, I wanted to know:

• whether staff from ISU’s Department of Public Safety have inspected the Knoll more than once;

• whether any ISU police official determined that weapons were still being stored safely at the Knoll before Leath received the current written waiver; and

• how many weapons Leath has acquired since the Department of Public Safety first inspected his storage area.

From e-mail correspondence obtained through a separate records request, I knew Leath had acquired at least one firearm since the initial inspection. In February 2016 (after Stewart had retired as chief of police), Leath told a friend seeking to sell “two nice bird guns,” “I just bought a 28 last week so off the market.” A 28 gauge shotgun is a popular hunting weapon.

Six days later, Landolt hasn’t answered any of my questions or acknowledged my e-mail, which I sent a second time just to be sure. Perhaps she wasn’t a fan of my last piece on “planegate,” which quoted liberally from our correspondence.

Also on February 14, I asked ISU’s Public Records Office for copies of the following two documents:

1. President Steven Leath’s request for authorization to continue to store weapons at The Knoll and to transport weapons in university-owned aircraft in accordance with FAA regulations.

2. The written waiver from the Senior Vice President of University Services, granting President Leath permission to continue to store weapons at The Knoll and to transport weapons in university-owned aircraft in accordance with FAA regulations.

Six days later, I’m still waiting for documents that could have been retrieved in minutes. Those records might refer to a recent inspection of Leath’s weapons storage area, if anyone from ISU’s Department of Public Safety conducted one.

By now I’m used to ISU’s stonewalling. I assume that as in November and December, staff are trying to run out the clock before Board of Regents members hear from Chief Audit Executive Todd Stewart and discuss this audit on February 22.

NO CLARITY ON POSSIBLE CHANGES TO ISU’S WEAPONS POLICY

Internal auditors did not suggest any changes to ISU’s weapons policy. Their only recommendation (page 3) was to have Board of Regents Executive Director Bob Donley review and approve Leath’s waiver.

Nevertheless, the “Management Response” to the weapons audit included this absurd line: “We now realize the university policy is ambiguous and requires clarification with regard to transportation of firearms; we plan to update the policy accordingly.”

Does this policy sound ambiguous to you?

The unauthorized transportation, use, or storage of any firearms, weapons and/or explosives is prohibited. In extenuating circumstances, a request for authorization for transporting firearms, weapons and/or explosives must be submitted in writing and approved by the office of risk management or department of public safety.

In my February 14 message to Landolt, I asked how ISU management considers current policy on transporting weapons “ambiguous,” as well as for further details on plans to alter that policy. So far, radio silence from Leath’s communications assistant.

I can’t think of how management might clarify ISU’s straightforward wording on transportation of weapons. Maybe an update will address the matter of passengers accompanying Leath on hunting trips, since they are not covered by the waiver Internal Audit supposedly received last month.

If anything here is too ambiguous, it’s the new audit. By not stating explicitly that Leath brought weapons on ISU aircraft without permission, the authors paved the way for news reports about the audit “questioning whether Iowa State University President Steven Leath violated policy,” under the headline, “Audit: No proof Iowa State president had waivers for guns.”

Indeed, there’s no proof Leath had waivers for his guns. In fact, there’s strong evidence he didn’t have those waivers. But the Iowa Board of Regents Audit/Compliance and Investment Committee, led by Regent Larry “Glory hallelujah!” McKibben, will probably gloss over that reality when discussing the weapons review and a bunch of other audits on Wednesday.

I will update this post as needed, if I receive further information from ISU.

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