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By Kelly Boggs, Editor
PINEVILLE – A spate of leaked documents continues to fuel controversy at Louisiana College. The actual sources of the heretofore confidential information remain anonymous.
In just over a week’s time, recently, information from confidential LC trustee meetings, letters from an attorney, a never-filed lawsuit and other documents have been made public.
The primary outlet for the leaked information has been Reformed Baptist pastor and blogger J.D. Hall from Montana, who maintains a website where he writes a weblog and offers a regular podcast. Hall has been an outspoken critic of the LC Board of Trustees, LC president Joe Aguillard and Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins.
Executive Committee deals with blackmail attempt
The minutes of an Executive Committee Meeting of the Louisiana College Board of Trustees, which was convened on Nov. 15, 2011, were leaked to the public. The occasion of the meeting is what is described in the minutes as an attempt to blackmail the Louisiana College president by his then assistant.
Accompanying the leaked minutes is a document titled “Proposal For A Reasonable Separation Agreement Between Joseph Daniel Cole and Louisiana College, Et Al. The proposal was sent to LC President Joe Aguillard and, at the time, LC Vice President Tim Johnson. The proposal is dated Nov. 6, 2011.
The date in which the proposal was originally to be responded to, or acknowledged, is indicated to be Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.
However, that date has a line through it and the date for the response was changed and hand-written in to be Friday, Nov. 11, 2011.
The response date is somewhat inconsequential because Aguillard, Johnson and Cole all signed acknowledging the proposal on Nov. 6.
In the proposal Cole sought from LC $25,000 in cash after taxes, full pay and benefits through the end of his contract, which was July 31, 2013, and undetermined cash for overtime pay. According to the minutes, Cole threatened to share what was termed as “office secrets” to the press and others if the terms of his proposal were not met.
During the meeting of the Executive Committee, as reflected in the minutes, a discussion ensued as to whether or not the demands of Cole’s proposal should be met.
According to the minutes, “Dr. Aguillard stated that his plan was to refuse the $25,000 cash, pay for documented overtime, and a two week’s severance. In addition, Dr. Aguillard planned to turn Cole into the District Attorney’s office for possible but not definite charges to be pressed.”
Bonita Preutt-Armour, legal counsel for LC at the time, “…told Dr. Aguillard not to go to the D.A.’s office with the charges,” the minutes reflect.
The minutes reveal that Preutt-Armour said she had consulted an attorney specializing in personnel law and he “stated upon reading the blackmail letter, or that is was blackmail, it was a resignation and to ‘walk Cole to the door!’”
Preutt-Armour then, according to the minutes, suggested that Aguillard appoint a President Pro Tempore to deal with the issue as soon as possible. Her suggestion was based on the fact that Cole’s “allegations were against him.” Additionally, she suggested a task force be appointed to follow-up on the President Pro Tempore’s decision.
There was heated discussion as to whether or not Armour’s counsel would be followed. Aguillard was adamant that he should handle the situation. When it was finally decided her counsel would be employed, the minutes reflect that Aguillard’s first choice for the position of President Pro Tempore was Chuck Quarles who at the time was Vice President for Integration of Faith and Learning at LC.
Aguillard indicated that Quarles was not available due to “some personal family illnesses” and he would settle for Tim Searcy who at the time was the Academic Dean of the college.
Settling the Cole issue
In the role of President Pro Tempore, Searcy was given the specific duty of dealing with Cole’s proposal. The minutes reflect the following:
If the blackmail letter could be determined as a resignation, the matter should be considered closed.
If Searcy did not determine the letter to be a resignation, he then had to decide whether Cole should be fired outright or whether or not a severance package should be negotiated.
Another option Searcy had was to pay Cole the demands in his proposal which amounted to $25,000 cash after taxes, pay and benefits until his contract ran out in July and overtime pay.
A document released along with Cole’s proposal is titled “Release and Severance Agreement” and is dated November 17. This document details the terms Searcy and Cole apparently agreed upon.
On page two of the document is the following:
“(c) The College agrees to compensate Cole with severance pay equal to the current salary and benefits provided by the Administrative Employment Contract through July 31, 2012, at which time all benefits and payments will cease; (except as provided below)
“(d) The College agrees to pay the cellular telephone bill as provided in Cole’s contract through Nov. 30, 2011, at which time this payment shall cease.”
An addendum to the settlement, also dated Nov. 17, reveals that Cole received overtime pay, after taxes, in the sum of $5,171.50.
It is to be noted that the “Release and Severance Agreement” is a legal document and has places for Searcy and Cole to sign but the document released has no signatures. However, other documents as well as trustee testimony seem to indicate the “Release and Severance Agreement” represents the final settlement.
Additionally, it is absolutely clear from the Executive Committee minutes that Searcy was given the authority to settle the Cole issue. As such, any settlement would have to bear his signature.
The “Release and Severance Agreement” has a place for Searcy to sign. The proposal bears three signatures; those of Cole, Aguillard and Johnson (as a witness). The proposal does not bear Searcy’s signature.
Also, on the first page of the “Release and Severance Agreement” and item identified as 1.2 states: “Cole has voiced his displeasure with the demands of his position at the College and communicated his written Proposal to resign from the College on November 6, 2011.”
According to the aforementioned evidence along with the minutes of the Executive Session, it seems apparent that the “Release and Severance Agreement” dated Nov. 17 represents the terms agreed to by LC and Cole.
In agreeing to the severance, Cole agreed to remain confidential, or silent, about the allegations of “office secrets” at LC and to not speak negatively about the college.
There is no mention of $25,000 after taxes Cole sought in his proposal in the “Release and Severance Agreement.”
A chronological order of the events as represented in the leaked documents is as follows:
l Nov. 6, 2011 – Cole issued a proposal seeking payment of $25,000 cash after taxes, pay and benefits to the end of his contract and overtime pay in exchange for remaining silent on what he calls “office secrets” at LC.
l Nov. 15, 2011 – The Executive Committee of the LC Board of Trustees met for the purpose of addressing Cole’s demands. At this meeting a President Pro Tempore was appointed and given the authority to work out a settlement as soon as possible. Tim Searcy was appointed to this position. A task force to follow-up on the issue was also appointed.
l Nov. 17, 2011 – The President Pro Tempore and Cole apparently settled the issue with Cole agreeing to keep confidential concerning issues at LC and in exchange he received full pay and benefits to the end of his contract which was due to end July 31, 2012; pay of his cell phone to the end of Nov. 2011, and overtime pay.
The Baptist Message reached out to all of the trustees who served on the LC Board during the time of the Cole incident seeking information on the issue.
The Baptist Message has had difficulty in the past getting anyone to speak about issues at LC, as a result the publication offered to keep the identity of any trustee who would speak to the Message confidential or anonymous.
In making the offer of anonymity to the trustees the Baptist Message was hoping to gain accurate information. The Message set a criterion for using anonymous sources in this report. In order for any information to appear, it had to be corroborated by at least three witnesses.
One trustee, who asked to remain anonymous said, “The Committee [Executive Committee] did vote to pay Cole the funds. I think some of the ‘reporting’ that is being done is stretching that issue, calling it ‘hush money,’ involving sex and drugs, etc. That is not the way it was presented, or was received by the Committee members, in my view.”
The same trustee mentioned above added, “Dr. Aguillard did not want to pay him [Cole] a dime! Despite my assessment of his [Aguillard’s] actions on other things, he [Aguillard] was not the one pushing for us to pay Cole for any cover-up.”
Another trustee, who asked to not be named said, “It was my recollection that he [Cole] was paid the remainder of his contract plus some overtime and that was all. I don’t recall there were any additional funds paid.”
Another trustee, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed the severance, but said he did not recall the $25,000 being paid.
Another trustee, who asked to not be named, said he was not privy to the terms of the severance, said he did recall being told there was a confidentiality agreement of some type involved.
Carlton Vance, an LC trustee at the time of the Cole incident, issued the following statement, “The Cole issue should be put to sleep for good. It was settled in favor of the president of Louisiana College by the Board of Trustees. Marc Taylor of Ruston was chairman of the Board of Trustees at the time. He appointed me as one of the members of the committee which dealt with this issue.
“The college did not pay off Cole to keep him quiet. He was under contract in his position with the college and his contract was paid off when he was terminated. This was a legal issue in which the college fulfilled its responsibility. This has no place in the news at the present time.
“It is another attempt to stir up trouble for Louisiana College. Those of us who have served as Louisiana College Trustees Board know that there are some groups that are constantly attempting to create problems for the college to satisfy their own selfish purposes.”
What the Baptist Message has determined from examining the leaked documents and communicating with LC trustees is the following: Joseph Cole received a severance from LC that consisted of his contract being paid from Nov. 2011 through July 2012, his cell phone bill paid to the end of Nov. 2011 and overtime pay of $5,171.50 after taxes.
The Baptist Message also determined that Cole’s receiving of the aforementioned severance was contingent upon his agreeing to a confidentiality agreement.
Three trustees, who asked to be unnamed, pointed out that severance agreement, such as the one given to Cole, are routine in the corporate world.
Forged documents are alleged
Some of the “office secrets” Cole said he would reveal about the LC president were interesting. Among them were: “The president took too much advil [sic] and tylenol [sic]” and “Loryn Frye had been reprimanded for her temper and the President should be too.”
However, allegations that Cole said involved instances where he was told to change or forge documents that were to be sent to the LC’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) were deemed serious and were eventually investigated by a task force.
Two leaked documents reveal a dispute as to how the investigation of Cole’s allegations should have been handled. While the minutes of the meeting stipulate that the President Pro Tempore, Tim Searcy, was tasked with resolving the Cole issue, it seems that Searcy and LC legal counsel at the time, Bonita Prueuett-Armour, believed that Searcy, her law firm and the appointed task force should investigate the allegations.
In a confidential letter Pruette-Armour wrote to Kris Chenier, pastor of Trinity Heights Baptist Church in Shreveport who is identified as “Chairman of Grievance Subcommittee,” Pruette-Armour asserts her understanding that her law firm and Searcy were to report their findings to the Grievance Subcommittee.
“You were then tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the review of the allegations asserted against the president,”Pruette- Armour wrote to Chenier in a letter dated March 6, 2012.
Searcy agreed with Pruette-Armour’s understanding of the investigation in draft of a law suit which was never filed but was presented to the LC board. The legal document is dated June, 28, 2012.
The never-filed lawsuit says that Aguillard “unlawfully revoked the appointment of Dr. Searcy as the President Pro Tempore and even unlawfully disbanded the ad hoc investigative committee.”
The Baptist Message contacted Searcy, who is now Vice President for Academic Services at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga., and asked about his never-filed suit.
In an e-mail response Searcy wrote: “The Complaint was never filed and I never intended to file it. At the time, it was my only avenue in which to set forth the information contained therein. I paid the attorney out of my own pocket and there was no settlement of any kind.”
Pruette-Armour corroborates Searcy’s story in her letter to Cheneir. She wrote, “On January 27, 2012, Dr. Aguillard rescinded his decision to recuse himself from the Joseph Cole issue and demanded the Joseph Cole file from the Armour Law Firm and Dr. Searcy.”
Pruette-Armour goes on to tell Cheneir that Aguillard demanded the Cole File. She indicated that she refused to give Aguillard the sub-committee file material.
Eventually Pruette- Armour agreed to release the sub-committee information about the Cole incident to Cheneir, because he was the chairman of the investigative sub-committee.
Pruette-Armour closes her letter with, “as I advise on the phone on March 5, 2012, given circumstances as outlined in this letter, I do not believe that I can continue to represent Louisiana College.”
In a letter to the LC Board of Trustees dated October 22, which was recently leaked to the public, the board chairman at the time, Marc Taylor, wrote, “On May 30, 2012, a special called meeting of the Board was held and this whole matter [Cole incident] was discussed at length.”
Taylor, a Ruston businessman, continued, “After this meeting, on June 28, 2012, Dr. Aguillard, eighteen members of the Board, Dr. Chuck Quarles, and one non-board members [sic] received documents from Mr. Victor H. Sooter, Attorney at Law, naming Dr. Aguillard, Dr. Quarles, select members of the Board of Louisiana College in a potential law suit on behalf of Dr. Tim Searcy.”
It was information detailed in Searcy’s legal draft that caused Taylor to appoint a committee “to look into the matter of forged signatures on evaluation forms of some faculty members.”
Taylor’s letter reports that the members of the committee were himself, “Dr. Fred Jones, Dr. Darrell D. Payne, Mr. Heath Veuleman, and Rev. Carlton Vance.”
At the time of the committee appointment Jones was Criminal Justice Professor at LC; Payne was Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services and Athletic Director at LC; Veuleman, Vance along with Taylor were members of the LC Board.
In his letter to the board, Taylor wrote, “…Mr. Cole admitted he had lost some of the evaluation reports, which the Administration did not know, and had to get unsigned copies of these reports to complete his assignment. Mr. Cole further admitted that he signed the names to the evaluation reports…”
In his legal draft Searcy mentions other documents that were alleged to be altered, but these are nowhere mentioned in Taylor’s report.
Several board members indicated that Aguillard told the board that LC had self-reported the forged documents to SACS. In his legal draft Searcy says, “Aguillard then reported to the disbanded ad hoc investigatory committee and to the Administrative Staff that he had self-reported all matters contained in the documents to SACS.”
Searcy’s legal draft contends, “This ‘self-reporting” was only the form of an e-mail which casually mentioned some wrong signatures and dates.” The draft goes on to allege, “Such ‘self-reporting’ does not and did not comply with SACS self-reporting procedures, and is not lawful ‘self-reporting.’”
Veuleman’s statement is the most concise and sums up the conclusions of the committee: “As I noted in my report from the ad hoc committee, I did not find any evidence that Dr. Aguillard forged the documents as alleged. Further, Dr. Aguillard stated that he nor Dr. Johnson instructed any person to forge the documents as alleged.”
Four trustees, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Baptist Message they did not have any recollection of the Marc Taylor letter or any knowledge of the committee to which it refers.
The four indicated had they known about the committee they would have never approved of LC employees (Jones and Payne) investigating the president.
LC trustee Jay Adkins, pastor of First Baptist Church Westwego, responded to the Baptist Message via e-mail and said:
“Although I did not leak the information that has been made public, I could not be more happy to know that it is now out there for public consumption. I was stunned and frustrated that the full board was not made aware of the allegations and demands Mr. Cole made at the time he presented them.
“We did not know anything about what was going on. Apparently, the LC Executive Board had knowledge of Mr. Cole’s actions but that information was kept from the full board. In fact, we only became aware (still not knowing any specifics) of portions of the information in regard to another issue that came up in Executive Session (thus I cannot in good conscience speak to that issue). In the end, the board NEVER voted on anything in regard to Mr. Cole.”
Another allegation by Cole in the Executive Committee meeting minutes that raised the interest of some trustees is the following: “Cole stated that in February 2010, he had been caught in a situation involving alcohol, pornography, hallucinogens, in a local hotel with two male College Freshmen, in which accusations of sexual misconduct were alleged and he (Cole) did not want it held against him by the President.”
The aforementioned is never mentioned in any other documents the Baptist Message examined and only one LC trustee touched on Cole’s statement. Jay Adkins, LC trustee and outspoken critic of recent activity of the LC board, told the Baptist Message:
“…it should be noted that Joe Aguillard not only knew about Cole’s untoward actions involving the LC underclassmen but that he also intervened in what would have been disciplinary actions against Mr. Cole and then, contrary to all decent judgement, he hired Mr. Cole to be his personal assistant.”
When The Baptist Message asked Adkins how he was certain of Aguillard’s knowledge concerning Cole’s “untoward actions” he responded, “I can only say that I’ve spoken with someone who was on the subcommittee (which was prematurely dissolved) that was appointed to look into the situation. Any further comment regarding what we came to know would cause me to break executive session confidence and I have taken great caution to not let that happen.”
All the Baptist Message could determine after examining the leaked documents is that, according to Cole’s statement, at some point between February 2010 and Nov. 6, 2011 Aguillard became aware of the situation. How the president chose to deal or not deal with the situation could not be ascertained by any documents.
Larry Hubbard, LC trustee and pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denham Springs responded to the email the Baptist Message sent to the LC board and said:
“I am bound by a confidentiality statement that was signed during my first meeting as a trustee. Confidentiality is the standard operating culture of Louisiana College which provides no transparency for Louisiana Baptist or the culture at large.
“In recent days, I have discovered that a pastor in Montana has a greater knowledge about Louisiana College then this trustee. You would be better served to ask those outside of the Board of Trustees about Joseph Cole’s service to Louisiana Baptist.
“This trustee is much more informed by internet blogs than the meetings he has attended. No institution can function in secrecy for it is no longer 1950 but 2014.
“Please help Louisiana Baptist by revealing what has been hidden. Let us repent of secrecy in order that transparency will be expected of all Louisiana Baptist and demanded of our entities.”
This report referenced a variety of documents that had been leaked, via the Internet, to the public. These documents can be accessed via the following links:
Minutes of Executive Committee Meeting: http://www.scribd.com/doc/209079037/Louisiana-College-Trustee-Minutes-Jo…
Cole’s Proposal, “Release and Severance Agreement,” Pruette-Armour letter to Kris Chenier :http://www.scribd.com/doc/209306915/Louisiana-College-Agreement-to-Pay-O…
Searcy’s potential lawsuit: http://www.scribd.com/doc/210185306/Searcy-v-Aguillard-Lawsuit
See Taylor’s letter to LC Board at www.baptistmessage.com.