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Updated Feb 1, 2013, 4:08 pm Originally posted Feb 1, 2013, 10:35 am
One of the two finalists to lead Pima Community College has withdrawn her name, after PCC officials learned of fudged enrollment and $5.2 million in overbilling during her tenure at a former college. The search process has been put on hold, Pima officials said.
Dr. Maria C. Sheehan, president of Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, has withdrawn her name from consideration.
"Because of concerns that have arisen regarding one of the finalists... The search process has been put on hold," Pima search committee co-chairs Brenda Even and David Longoria said in a letter to college employees Thursday.
"My understanding is that she has withdrawn her name" from consideration, college spokesman C.J. Karamargin said Friday.
Sheehan and Terrence J. Burgess, Ph.D., the president of San Diego City College, were announced a week ago as the finalists as Pima seeks a replacement for longtime college head Roy Flores.
From 2001-2007, Sheehan was the president of College of the Desert, in Palm Desert, Calif. That school overstated its enrollment and overbilled the state between 2003 and 2010, California auditors said late last year.
California's Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team characterized the practice as potential fraud, and the school will have to repay $5.2 million, California Watch reported in November.
The fiscal team's report said College of the Desert's "senior management team" knew the school was submitting false reports.
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Sheehan told California Watch that she did not know of the exaggeration of enrollment figures.
“I would never do anything like that,” Sheehan said. “That’s ridiculous for any president to try to skim around numbers that are inaccurate.”
Sheehan did not respond to TucsonSentinel.com's request for comment Friday.
Sheehan did not disclose the issue to the search committee, Karamargin said.
"The vetting process was flawed," Karamargin said. The search was facilitated by Washington, D.C., executive search consultants R.H. Perry & Associates.
That firm has been paid about $50,000 of the $60,000 budgeted for the search, he said.
Search committee leaders Even and Longoria, who sit on the college's Governing Board, aren't pleased that R.H. Perry missed the overbilling, Karamargin said.
He said it was "a fair assessment" that Pima "did not get the services they were offered."
The news was "a total surprise to us," Even said on the John C. Scott Show on Friday.
Sheehan was interviewed by the search committee and consultants in mid-January, Karamargin said, well after the California report was released on Nov. 28.
The consultant's role was to "find candidates who would be good for the college, and vet them," he said. The members of the search committee were to determine which of the candidates would be a good fit for the college and the community.
"Any info about their past, the committee relied on the search consultant."
Liz Rocklin, the R.H. Perry consultant who worked on Pima's search, refused to comment Friday and abruptly hung up the phone.
Karamargin said he believes a refund "is something the Board will explore."
"Clearly, when you enter into a contract for a service, and you do not believe you've been provided that service, you have an issue," he said.
The Governing Board will meet Tuesday to discuss next steps, he said.
"That's something that'll have to be discussed with an attorney," Even said. "We couldn't believe that our search consultant couldn't come up with that information," she said.
Karamargin said allowing Burgess to remain a finalist in a restarted search would be the right thing to do, but he won't get the post by default.
"You can't have a valid search with only one candidate," he said. "He was selected as a finalist and he can remain as a finalist."