Nanci Salvidio, named in Westfield State presidential spending probe, no longer employed at university

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
WESTFIELD — Nanci Salvidio, whose name surfaced in a report last year critical of former Westfield State University President Evan S. Dobelle’s spending habits, no longer works in the president’s office at the school.

Salvidio had worked at Westfield State for 33 years, most recently as associate vice president of alumni and community relations.

According to the audit last year by the Braintree accounting firm O’Connor and Drew, Dobelle in 2011 used the university credit card of Salvidio, then his executive assistant, to charge thousands of dollars in expenses, including business travel around the country and $875 for a room at a five-star London hotel.

Molly Watson, a university spokeswoman, declined to answer questions about Salvidio or confirm that she no longer worked at the school. “The administration does not comment on personnel matters out of respect for the dignity and reputation of every person involved as well as to maintain the integrity and credibility of the process,” she said in a Jan. 30 email.

But in response to a public records request from the Gazette seeking the names of all employees working in the president’s office, Acting Vice President of Administration and Finance Rafael Bones provided a list that did not include Salvidio’s name.

In an email Friday, Bones declined to provide other information requested, including records of who was terminated, resigned or retired from the president’s office and any documents regarding such matters. He cited section of the state’s Public Records Law that exempts “personnel and medical files or information” from being considered public records.

“Therefore, the University will not produce any documents regarding specific personnel actions that the University has taken regarding people employed in the Office of the President,” he wrote.

A month after Dobelle retired Nov. 8, another top administrator, Milton Santiago, also left the office. But in that case, university officials clarified that Santiago had resigned from his job as vice president of administration and finance, although they did not specify a reason.

Messages left at the Westfield home of Salvidio seeking comment were not returned Monday and she has not been reachable at the office phone number listed on the university’s website.

According to a description of Salvidio’s career from a Boston conference where she gave a presentation in 2013, she started working at the university in 1980 as a counselor in the Urban Education program. Her job titles there also included associate director of the Academic Achievement Center, executive assistant to the president, associate vice president of advancement and university relations.

Dobelle admitted that he used his and Salvidio’s university credit cards for personal use, including buying plane tickets for his family, but said he eventually repaid that money. In response to the audit’s findings that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the university’s fund-raising foundation on travel, concert tickets, limousine rides and other things, Dobelle insisted he did so to increase the university’s profile and bring in donations from alumni.

The state inspector general’s office and attorney general have also launched investigations into his spending, but have not released results.

Following the university board of trustees’ Oct. 17 decision to put Dobelle on paid administrative leave, the former president sued the university, its trustees and others for violating his contract. He retired on Nov. 8 and is attempting to get the university to pay at least $99,000 in legal fees he incurred while still an employee.

Meanwhile, one of Dobelle’s most vocal critics, Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, is scheduled to meet with the board of trustees at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Horace Mann Center, 333 Western Ave.

Freeland had suggested in an October letter to the trustees that Dobelle should not remain the university’s president and temporarily froze $2 million in state funding to university projects.

But his visit to the meeting Thursday is routine, according to his spokeswoman, Katy Abel. “He has committed to visits with every local campus board during the course of this academic year. The conversations with trustees are focused on the public higher education system’s need to show results, such as improved graduation rates and success in narrowing achievement gaps,” Abel wrote in an email Monday.

She was not able to provide details about whether Freeland expected to discuss Dobelle or the university’s efforts to move forward after his retirement.

Watson, the university’s spokeswoman, said of the meeting, “I would expect a global statement along the lines of ‘I know it’s been a challenging year,’ but his visit is really focused on the work of the state university system.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.