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PSU accuses Burton of lying about travel expenses

Former legislator and Metro head retired before being placed on administrative leave

Former state legislator and Metro head Mike Burton abruptly announced his retirement from Portland State University the day after being told he was going to put on administrative leave during an investigation into questionable travel reimbursements.

Burton retired from his positions as Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Leadership Development, Associate Vice President for Human Resources and General Counsel for PSU on June 30. He had previously indicted he would retire in December 2011.

According to a letter released by PSU on Aug. 19, Burton said he would repay PSU for any inaccurate reimbursements when he retired.

The day before Burton announced his retirement, managers from PSU's Internal Audit Division met with him and said they had discovered he was reimbursed $4,500 for travel to London and Paris to attend conferences he apparently never attended.

In fact, according to the Aug. 18 letter, the conferences did not even take place when Burton was traveling between Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, 2010.

The meeting took place on June 14. Burton submitted a letter on June 15 saying he would retire on June 30.

The Aug. 18 letter was written by Patricia Snopkowski, Executive Director the IAD, to PSU President Wim Wiewel. After the letter was released, Wiewel issued a prepared statement that said, "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."

According to PSU spokesman Scott Gallagher, the university has not filed a police report. After consulting with Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, the decision was made to seek reimbursement instead.

"The good news is, the checks and balances worked. We found the inconsistencies and we are moving to resolve the issue," Gallagher says.

The Portland Tribune could not immediately reach Burton for comment.

Snopkowski's letter says the inaccurate reimbursements were originally discovered during a routine audit. When questions about them, Burton 'provided inconsistent statements regarding the itinerary and businesses purposes for the trips,' the letter says.

Mike Burton was Executive Officer of Metro from 1995 to 2003. He was previously elected to the Metro Council in 1978 and served on it until 1982. Before that, he served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1985 to 199, and was Speaker Pro-Tem in the 1991 session.

He worked at PSU for eight years before retiring. He was most recently associated with the School of Extended Studies.

The following timeline was released by PSU:

January - Oregon University System audit office began a full audit of Extended Studies because of fiscal concerns and restructuring discussions.

Jan - May - Audit fieldwork occurred.

May 27 - Burton informs Provost Roy Koch that he is going to retire in December, 2011.

May - OUS audit noted that a business trip Mike Burton took to London and Paris was missing supporting documents.

June 1 - OUS auditors asked Burton to provide the missing documentation.

June 9 - OUS auditors and PSU administrators met with Burton to request additional documentation for the business trip.

June 14 - OUS auditors and PSU administrators question Mike Burton regarding the trip to London and Paris. At the end of the meeting Burton is informed that he would be put on administrative leave pending the results of a full investigation.

June 15 - Burton submits a letter to move up the final date of his retirement, effective June 30.

June 16 - Provost Koch sends Burton a letter accepting his resignation and revoking all of Burton's authority and access. Vice Provost Kevin Reynolds, in charge of Fiscal Strategies and Planning, replaces Burton in Extended Studies.

July 21 - PSU administrators receive copies of Burton's emails from OUS audit office. The emails revealed a personal motive for the trip.

Aug. 18 - Audits completed.