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updated: 6/20/2014 6:21 PM

Education board chief was paid $48K to leave quietly

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Board of Higher Education paid a former executive director $48,000 to resign in the fall of 2012 while stating publicly -- to avoid negative publicity -- that he would be available for consultation during the transition to a new chief, the state's inspector general said in a report released Friday.

George Reid was asked to leave his $193,000 job in September 2012 after just 18 months because the board found he was an ineffective and combative manager who alienated staff, the report released by the Illinois Ethics Commission said.

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His contract allowed for him to receive only $16,000 in severance, but the board paid him three times that because, according to the board's ex-chairwoman, Reid threatened a lawsuit.

The former chairwoman, Carrie Hightman, told The Associated Press Friday that the severance agreement saved the state money, releasing the state from legal liability.

The ethics commission could not pursue the matter to a formal conclusion because the board refused to release minutes of executive sessions and several board members declined to be interviewed.

In late October 2012, a day before the agreement was finalized, a lawyer for the education board wrote an email to Reid's lawyer suggesting severance-agreement language requiring transition assistance. "I want to make sure there are no press issues that he is being paid for services not performed," Mary Patricia Burns said in the email. Burns did not immediately respond to a message left at her office Friday.

Even though it didn't issue a finding on the matter, the commission recommended the governor's office develop standards for employee severance agreements and suggested the board not mislead the public with statements as it did when Reid left, saying it was his decision to quit.

The commission did issue official findings that Reid wasted taxpayer money by using a state-owned vehicle as his own and requiring other board employees to run up thousands of dollars in car rental costs.

Reid did not return a message left at his Maryland home on Friday. He did not respond to investigators' requests to be interviewed even though it was during the time that he was supposed to be available to help with the transition. That was a three-month period in which the investigation found the only communication between Reid and the board was about delivery of his checks and his 2012 use of the state vehicle.

Hightman, who was chairwoman of the education board from 2007 to 2013, said the board's dealings with Reid all followed the advice of the board's lawyers. She told investigators that Reid initially demanded a much larger settlement.

"The manner in which we managed the ultimate exit from the agency, in light of the threats that he had made through counsel, and in light of the facts surrounding his employment, was prudent, in the best interests of the state of Illinois, and fully supported by our counsel in terms of understanding the risks of not taking that action and the potential cost of not resolving it the way we did," Hightman told the AP.

The report pointed out that Hightman was aware that Reid, while president of Kentucky State University from 1998 to 2002, had been accused of using university money for personal purchases and was fired. But she told the AP she understood it had been a political dispute and that Reid's references spoke highly of him.

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