CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When officials in the State Auditor's Office saw charges for Chicago Bears football tickets, a stay at the Hollywood Hotel, a $416 dinner and multiple alcohol and room service charges on a state travel card, they automatically flagged it as suspicious.
But the card belonged to West Virginia State University President Brian Hemphill, so it was out of the auditor's hands.
That's because when it comes to college presidents, what they can and cannot spend in their position is entirely up to that president's own institution -- even if, in this case, expenses were made using a West Virginia Travel Card permitted "for official use only for the State of West Virginia business," per the card's contract.
Colleges, as well as members of the legislative and judicial branches of state government, are among agencies exempt from state code governing travel and purchasing policies.
According to documents, Hemphill made other purchases typically prohibited on state travel cards that the Auditor's Office refers to as "extras" and outside the scope of "actual costs" of traveling: multiple Patron Margaritas at different restaurants, several hotel movie rentals at $16.99 each, as well as additional hotel fees for pet services, valet parking and mini-bar and gift shop purchases.
"It is up to the university to determine and define official state business," said Kimberly Osbourne, vice president for WVSU Relations and Operations. WVSU officials said the expenses were for "donor cultivation."
The State Auditor's Office recently flagged the account because of purchases "personal or non-travel in nature," before sending it off to be reviewed by the Travel Management Office, according to Justin Southern, communications director for West Virginia State Auditor Glen Gainer.
The issue was resolved as far as the Auditor's Office's jurisdiction goes, Southern said, because the WVSU Foundation -- which administers the college's donations and supports student scholarships -- had reimbursed thousands of dollars for those "personal" charges. Hemphill himself had also paid back some charges to the account.
"If there's something that needs to be done, then [the Travel Management Office] could pull a card away from a person," Southern said. "But I believe that presidents of universities, they have different responsibilities when it comes to entertaining and how they handle things."
The state Travel Management Office did not take any action, though an employee in the office, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was "like robbing Peter to pay Paul."
"[The Foundation] paid for the things that shouldn't have been done," the source said.
The Travel Management Office would reach out to the HEPC in a case like this, according to Southern.
But the HEPC said it was unaware that Hemphill's account had been in question.
While the HEPC sets forth travel and purchasing procedures for institutions to follow based on state statute, the responsibility of auditing a president's expense account lies in the hands of their institution, followed by submission to the auditor's office, according to HEPC spokeswoman Jessica Tice.
According to those HEPC procedural rules on travel, alcoholic beverages and entertainment expenses are specifically excluded, and travel accounts should be used "only for official business" and for "actual costs."
WVSU also has its own policy regarding travel expenses that states, "specifically excluded are alcoholic beverages and entertainment expenses," but school officials said again, presidents are exempt from those rules.
However, higher education is "unique" and "mulitfacted," Tice said, which "requires a level of flexibility that allows the [HEPC] and institutions to be nimble and respond to the needs of students and others we serve."
HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill said WVSU's internal audit of Hemphill's account was sufficient, and praised the president -- an Illinois transplant who took over WVSU in 2012 -- for his work so far.