Judge allows case to proceed
BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
DAYTONA BEACH – A Volusia County (Daytona Beach) state circuit court judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) and its board of trustees of violating its own rules when it terminated former trustee A. Ray Brinson from the board, allegedly in retaliation for Brinson’s aggressive questions about the school’s finances.
The critical court victory sets the stage for former B-CU President Edison O. Jackson, current interim president Hubert Grimes – who is also on the university’s legal defense team – Board Chairman Joe Petrock, and others in the school’s leadership group to be questioned under penalty of possible perjury about a dormitory building project that may ultimately cost the school more than $300 million.
It will also force the university to produce documents long sought by critics, including construction contracts and financial statements that B-CU, a private university, has traditionally refused to make public.
High public interest
Circuit Judge Christopher France – who is also presiding over a similar lawsuit filed against B-CU by another alumnus, Robert Delancy – ruled quickly after lawyers made oral arguments on Wednesday.
The hearing, which would typically be heard by the judge in his office, was moved to a Volusia County courtroom because of the presence of a group of local B-CU alumni and media representatives from local newspaper and TV outlets.
Brinson claims he was terminated from the board in October 2016 without notice or warning, and in violation of B-CU’s bylaws that provide a formal process for removal of trustees. His lawsuit was filed by Jacksonville-based attorney Willie J. Walker.
Brinson, a Jacksonville resident, is a former Prudential and Aetna Insurance executive who retired in 2002 after 33 years in the industry. He is a B-CU alumnus who has combined service of more than 15 years as a trustee. He also served as president of B-CU’s National Alumni Association (NAA) for four years.
Worried about debt
“During or around 2015, Plaintiff…expressed worries about the B-CU’s level of debt and lack of transparency regarding the B-CU’s plans to enter into a $72,000,000.00 capital lease over forty (40) years to finance a 1,200-bed student housing project. As such, Plaintiff raised these questions in written correspondences directly to the BOT, its Chairperson, and B-CU’s administrators concerning the housing project,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit states that for months, Brinson tried to “resolve the matter informally” with B-CU before finally hiring Walker.
Second lawsuit amended
In the other lawsuit against the university which France is considering, B-CU’s trustees refused to appoint Delancy, the NAA’s chosen appointee, to the board – also allegedly in retaliation for questioning the school’s financial condition and raising concerns about the dorm deal.
Delancy’s lawsuit was dismissed on June 14 by France, who gave Delancy 30 days to correct and refile it. In the order, the judge wrote that the NAA is the proper party to bring the lawsuit.
The NAA subsequently joined the lawsuit and will also be represented by Delancy’s current Fort Lauderdale-based attorney, Nathaniel E. Green, Jr. That legal action is still pending.
Alums on Facebook
Meanwhile, Delancy is sending email blasts to B-CU alumni and other interested parties to keep pressure on the school’s leadership. He also harshly criticizes the university’s alumni, while trying to spur them into action.
“There are at least 500 alumni posting daily on Facebook: Why are there not 1,000 alumni marching on White Hall (B-CU’s administrative building) demanding deconstruction of the BOT?
Why are there not 1,000 alumni sending 10,000 letters to the BOT demanding an immediate forensic audit?
“Why are there not 1,000 alumni sending 10,000 letters to the United Methodist Organization demanding an explanation as why those occupying the UMC seats on the BOT sat idly and accepted the status quo?
“You are not going affect change by posting on Facebook alone. At some point you will have to develop a spine, step up to the front line, and be counted!” Delancy exclaimed in an email blast dated July 24.
“Why am I so harsh and unforgiving? Because despite all of the smooth talk from Hubert Grimes, despite the BS Petrock is spewing out of his mouth, I still project that if B-CU cannot get from under the massive dorm financing debt, the doors of B-CU will be closed within 3-5 years….
“It is time for all alumni to wake up, do your research, let your voices be heard, and be prepared to donate like you have never donated before. Only you can save B-CU,” he concludes.