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Westfield inquiry broke laws, alleges Dobelle’s lawyer

The board of trustees has scheduled a meeting to consider suspending president Evan Dobelle.

Essdras M. Suarez/ Globe Staff

The board of trustees has scheduled a meeting to consider suspending president Evan Dobelle.

An attorney for the embattled president of Westfield State University suggested Saturday that the university’s board of trustees has broken laws in its inquiry into the administrator’s controversial spending habits.

In a letter, the attorney for Evan S. Dobelle, under fire for years of lavish spending on travel and entertainment, requested a meeting with the board to discuss the investigation, possible violations of state open-meeting laws, and whether trustees misled state education officials.

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Dobelle’s spokesman, George K. Regan, denounced the board’s inquiry Saturday.

“This was an improper and illegal investigation from the very beginning,” Regan said by e-mail.

Regan said Jack Flynn, chairman of the board, had launched the inquiry without board approval and had conducted secret meetings, violating state law.

Flynn did not respond to voicemail messages Saturday.

“President Dobelle wants to shed light on Chair Flynn’s inappropriate investigation to protect the university from witch hunts in the future,” Regan said.

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“[Flynn’s] illegal probe of President Dobelle is an attempt to deflect attention away from the real problem at WSU,” he said, “which has been the fact that Flynn, the chief administrative officer at the Massachusetts State Police, has used his position to funnel troopers through the university.”

Regan said the university had become a “diploma mill” for the State Police and Dobelle was trying to stop that practice. Dobelle has previously said the inquiry is part of a State Police campaign to derail his vision of making Westfield State a more competitive institution.

In the letter, Dobelle’s attorney, Ross H. Garber, suggested there may have been improper participation in the inquiry by “a former high-ranking Massachusetts State Police official.”

Garber also suggested that members of the board could be found liable in court for failing to address what he describes as Flynn’s violation of the university’s bylaws and the open-meeting law. Garber said the board had allowed its liability insurance to lapse.

The board of trustees has scheduled a meeting for Oct. 16 to consider suspending Dobelle with pay while they investigate.

Dobelle has drawn sharp criticism from state education officials since a Globe report in August highlighted the spending controversy.

His pricey expenditures included personal items charged to a university credit card and to a card given him by the private foundation that raises money for scholarships and educational programs at the university.

Richard M. Freeland, the state’s higher education commissioner, demanded that Dobelle respond to detailed questions about his spending, including a state inspector general’s findings that he violated university credit-card policy and used foundation funds “with little or no consideration for the mission or financial viability of the foundation.”

Dobelle missed a Thursday deadline to respond to Freeland’s questions, saying he needed until Monday to collect proper documentation.

Freeland subsequently moved to freeze state funding for the university, including $2 million for a new science building.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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