KENNESAW, Ga. - Thousands of Kennesaw State University students could see more money in their pockets following a blistering audit into the school's dining services. Auditors said the school should stop requiring students who live off-campus to pay for a meal plan on campus.
KSU collected roughly $2 million each year from commuter students, people who don't live on campus but are required to buy a meal plan as part of their semester fees. Often, some of those meals will go unused.
"I think it's ridiculous that we pay all this tuition and then we're here paying another big fee," complained commuter student Emmanuel Almeda.
"We got to pay for it," agreed his friend EJ Jatta. "It costs a lot of money to pay for all that and lose everything."
Only Georgia Gwinnett College had rules similar to KSU, but GGC students are allowed to get refunds for meals they didn't use. That's not the case right now at KSU.
But that could soon change. The Board of Regents wants KSU to rebid its dining services contract and end mandatory commuter meal plans, in the wake of a blistering audit into questionable behavior by administrators in charge of feeding all 33,000 students.
"Anytime the fluff sounded better than the facts, most of the time it was the fluff they went with," remembered former KSU police chief Ted Cochran about his bosses in administration.
Cochran started in the KSU police department in 1983, but he said it was their investigation into top chef Gary Coltek that was one of the most frustrating of his career.
"We had to remember that Gary Coltek won this national award and that we at Kennesaw State had gained a lot of positive PR," Cochran said administrators pointed out to him.
Coltek's sudden resignation in the wake of a FOX 5 I-Team investigation last year ultimately led to that Board of Regents audit that cost several high-ranking KSU administrators their job. Auditors blamed the school for failing to properly investigate allegations Coltek was secretly being paid on the side by vendors he was supposed to be managing, hiring family members for school jobs in violation of state nepotism rules, and faking a tax document.
Last fall, Coltek insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing, even though the FOX 5 I-Team found him using KSU emails and staff for his private business ventures.
"There's absolutely nothing that I did wrong," Coltek responded.
It's clear KSU thought a lot of Coltek and the national reputation he created for the school's dining program. KSU tried to keep a 2013 reprimand of Coltek from the FOX 5 I-Team when we made an open records request for his personnel file. Even though the reprimand found he may have "violated… state and Federal laws," he was given only a two-week suspension. Later, the school raised his salary to $130,000 a year.
We asked former chief Cochran if a typical government employee had done the same things as Gary Coltek was said to have done in that 2013 reprimand, would they be allowed to stay employed?
"No," he quickly answered. "From my law enforcement perspective, they would have been arrested and put in jail."
The audit called the problems we uncovered "continued apparent violations of the same policies by the former dining director" and criticized the school for failing to report "repeated and flagrant violations of the public trust."
The GBI has yet to wrap up its criminal investigation.