Editorials

Union wants UC official ousted over audit

A University of California labor union is calling for the resignation of David J. Ernst, the executive a state audit found was improperly reimbursed more than $150,000 when he worked for the California State University system.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 20,000 UC custodians, food service workers and other support staff, sent a letter to UC President Mark Yudof on Friday saying Ernst's "jet-setting global junkets, lavish meals and opulent retreats at taxpayer expense is an insult to workers who have been asked to put less food on their tables and students who have been forced to forgo their dreams."

Restoring the public's faith in the UC system requires the resignation and return of the funds, the letter said.

The demand came a day after state auditor Elaine Howle released a report saying that between July 2005 and July 2008 a high-ranking information technology official at California State University had wasted public funds by billing the university for expensive hotel stays, travel around the world, meals that cost nearly $167 a head, phone and Internet service at home, and more than $43,000 for commuting between his home in Northern California and his job at the chancellor's office in Long Beach.The audit does not name the official, but a CSU spokeswoman said it concerns Ernst, who left Cal State in July 2008 earning an annual salary of $204,420.He then went to work for UC, where he earns $238,000 a year as the chief information officer.

UC officials said Friday they are reviewing the audit. "We won't let others rush our due diligence," said UC spokesman Steve Montiel.Ernst criticized the tone of the audit, saying in an e-mail to The Bee that it "appears to elevate concerns about travel policy issues into a personal attack on my character."

He disputed the audit finding that much of his international travel was unnecessary.

"The lessons learned and benefits gained for CSU's reputation and effectiveness were significant," Ernst wrote.

He said he had already followed the audit's recommendation that he reimburse CSU for $1,834 in duplicate payments and overpayments. Ernst said those were the result of clerical errors.

It was not the first time Ernst has come under scrutiny by the state auditor. In 2003, an audit found that he was working as a paid consultant for PeopleSoft while running the CSU technology office that awarded the company a large contract.

At the time, CSU leaders said Ernst disclosed his relationship with PeopleSoft and recused himself from decision-making.

Still, the auditor sent information on Ernst's relationship with PeopleSoft to the Fair Political Practices Commission, and the Legislature held hearings to investigate CSU's computer deal.

UC spokesman Montiel said Ernst is a good employee.

"During his time at UC," Montiel said, "Mr. Ernst has proven to be a valued employee who has made important improvements to our technological capabilities, including the implementation of greater cost efficiencies across the system."

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, released a statement Friday calling on Ernst to repay CSU for the entire $152,441 in improper expenses alleged by the audit, and asking Yudof and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed to publicly report all payments made to executives.

"The public deserves to know the extent of this problem," Yee said in the statement. "Considering the culture of secrecy and corruption within the UC and CSU administration, it is highly unlikely this is an isolated incident."

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