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Computer Tracking Vulnerabilities, OMA Lawsuit Noted In State Audit Of NIU

Northern Illinois University continues to get "written up" for the way it manages tracking of property and equipment. According to a compliance audit released Thursday through the state's Office of the Auditor General, an inventory certification reported 1,288 items ($1,624,740) of equipment could not be located by the university. The listing included approximately 520 computers, servers, CPUs, or other electronic storage devices.

This finding has been repeated since 2015.

The audit report recommends the university continue to strengthen its internal controls over the accountability of university property.

In response, the university accepts the auditors’ recommendation and says NIU has taken corrective measures to strengthen controls over the accountability of assets. School officials say they have developed a Missing Asset Internal Investigation Form to capture detail of any sensitive data stored on the device.  In addition, "Vice-Presidents are notified of missing items to exert a sense of urgency and resources needed to locate missing assets. Also, the University has developed training for responsible officers and revamped its asset transfer process to better track when assets move between departments."

The compliance audit also noted a lawsuit related to anOpen Meetings Act violationfor former NIU President Doug Baker.

Auditors say they became aware during their examination of pending litigation where the NIU Board of Trustees is the Defendant in a lawsuit related to former President Doug Baker's severance package. It challenges the Board’s compliance with the Open Meetings Act .

The audit report recommended that the university provide sufficient detail within agendas provided in advance of meetings of the Board of Trustees and various committees to ensure compliance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

In response, the university said, "Without waiving any argument raised in the litigation or its right to appeal the judgment of the court once it is made final, the University accepts that the finding accurately summarizes the December 1, 2017, ruling of the court, and accepts the recommended remedial action."

Full university response:

This audit finding appears to be a direct consequence of the Court decision in the case referenced, and not separate from the plaintiff’s cause of action in the case. On June 15, 2017, the Board of Trustees voted in open session on approval of a Presidential Transition Agreement, which impacted the employment of President Doug Baker. Under the proposed Presidential Transition Agreement, Dr. Baker agreed to resign from the presidency of the

University, and he also agreed to relinquish his tenured faculty position with the University, and provide the University with a release of any and all claims associated with his employment at NIU, among other considerations. It was incumbent upon the Board to consider this proposed agreement or any other appropriate action in relation to President Baker at the June 15th meeting. Unlike routine university recommendations that concern general operations, this was a personnel matter subject to the exclusive prerogatives of the Board, marked by significant urgency and limited opportunity. In the litigation, the Board asserted a range of potential outcomes that prevented a more specific item. This was a unique situation that is not anticipated to occur again and certainly not with any regularity. To preserve the Board’s ability to determine the most appropriate course of action, the general subject matter of “13. Presidential Employment (review and approval)” was put on the agenda and posted 48 hours in advance of the meeting. In the end, the Board agreed with the Presidential Transition Agreement as the appropriate course of action and approved the entering of the agreement in open session, in line with the stated intent of the Open Meetings Act “to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

As noted above, the Illinois Open Meetings Act requires any agenda to “set forth the general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting.” The Illinois Open Meetings Act does not define “general subject matter.” In addition, there are no court opinions or other authorities that identify the minimum level of sufficient detail that needs to be put onto an agenda of a public meeting, in order to meet the “general subject matter” standard. In fact, the Court in this case expressly noted in its Order and Decision that “This Court has not found any cases that discuss the sufficiency of compliance with the phrase ‘general subject matter.’”

In the end, the Court concluded that new amendments to the Northern Illinois University Law were not applicable to the case. The Court further concluded that the Board complied with sections a and b of 5 ILCS 120/2.02, as well as section e of 5 ILCS 120/2. Lastly, the Court concluded that Agenda Item 13 for the June 15, 2017 meeting violated the requirements of section 2.02(c) of the Open Meetings Act because it failed to describe the general subject matter of the resolution that was the subject of the final action at the meeting with regard to a transition agreement with Dr. Baker. The Court declined to opine on the level of specificity that would be necessary to meet the “general subject matter” standard, but concluded that the necessary level of specificity was not present for Agenda Item 13. The Court’s order and decision, promulgated after the Board’s action, and after considerable review and debate, therefore, established the deficiency at issue in this audit finding.

For clarification, while the judge did issue an Order and Decision, and the Board and University did take action to address that Order and Decision, the case is still pending in DeKalb County Circuit Court.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.