UPDATE – Another County Commissioner Speaks Out On Kilbride’s Spending Scandal: “At a time when students are being asked to pay more in tuition, it is really troubling to see a story like the one uncovered by Knight News,” said Bill Segal, who currently leads the pack of Orange County mayoral candidates in fundraising. “I hope the leaders of the SGA will immediately provide a full accounting of what they spent on this retreat and why they needed to spend it.”


Note from the Editor:
KnightNews.com prides itself on being a watchdog for students, serving as the voice for those whose outcries would otherwise not be heard. Sometimes, we must report on stories we wish we didn’t have to — and this is certainly one of them.


SGA ALREADY UNDER SCRUTINY, NOW THIS:
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Coming at a time when Student Government has been the target of major scrutiny for what attorneys say is illegal behavior, like denying media access to public meetings in violation of Florida Sunshine Law, we’ve now learned that UCF Student Government Association President, Mike Kilbride, spent $8,000 of student money on a lavish executive retreat at Reunion Resort and Club, a world-class, five-star resort just outside of Disney World Resort —not to mention the dozens of tickets to Disney that have mysteriously surfaced from an unknown donor for the Board of Trustee member to hand out to his paid staff.

Official SGA documents we’ve obtained show the budget for this event, which consists of $22-per-plate breakfasts, $35-per-plate lunches and $32-per-plate dinners, all while staying in luxury villas, many of which are privately owned. When we e-mailed President Kilbride asking whether he felt it was a good use of student funds, he refused to answer our question himself. Instead, he had his Chief Information Officer, Shane Chism, who he has appointed as his official spokesperson, reply in a lengthy e-mail leaving our questions unanswered.

Chism did tell us one thing, however: Although the retreat was budgeted at $8,000, he claimed SGA came in under budget. However, when KnightNews.com did some fact-checking, Chism appeared incorrect. We found that the retreat was actually over budget by $327.20, according to the Activity and Service Fee database showing the budgeted amount versus the actual amount spent, which is made public here.

KnightNews.com e-mailed Chism back on Friday morning to follow up on unanswered questions — as well as new ones raised by Chism’s initial response. Three days later, we still have no answers.

In an exclusive interview with Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart, a front-runner in the Mayoral race, she tells us how she is appalled at Kibride’s excessive spending. “The students should themselves pay closer attention to who they are electing,” she said.

When KnightNews.com asked what would happen if county commissioners went on a retreat like this, she replied, “We would certainly be written up and the public would have a complete fit about it.”

Over the weekend, as we waited for a response from Kilbride that never came, we paid a visit of our own to the Reunion Resort in Orlando, the same place Kilbride’s retreat was held just weeks ago.

HERE’S WHAT WE FOUND:

The Restaurants

In order to be fair and just, KnightNews.com decided to take an inside look at the resort firsthand, making sure to stop off at the restaurants where Kilbride and his administration dined, the Villas where they slept and the amenities that were available to everyone on the retreat.

According to the SGA budget for this retreat, each person enjoyed a $35-per-plate lunch. Kilbride confirmed that this took place at the hotel on site, so we checked out the menu for ourselves. The documents show Kilbride and his cabinet ate at a restaurant called “Eleven,” which is the most luxurious restaurant on site, serving tapas-style dishes on the 11th floor penthouse of the hotel, overlooking a world-class golf course.

We noted that the most expensive item on the entire menu was the “Togarashi Crusted Cowboy Steak,” which was $32. It’s not clear why their budget was approved for $35 each, when the most expensive meal at the most expensive restaurant was only $32. Kilbride has so far refused to release the menu options requested by KnightNews.com Friday morning, so no other details are available.

At the time of our visit, we had not yet confirmed the exact restaurant where Kilbride dined, so we went to the only other restaurant on site to check out its menu. We decided to order two meals: the first meal would be purchased using a $35 budget, which is the same budget alotted to each member of Kilbride’s cabinet. The second meal would be an attempt to see if a reasonable meal could be ordered for less than $35 on site.

When ordering our first meal, we soon realized that even the most expensive item on the menu, the Brasilian Churrasco steak with jumbo shrimp, along with a side of fried plantains, was only $29. So in addition to this surf and turf, we had to add a glass of Merlot wine — a soft drink wouldn’t have cut it — to hit the same total of $35 that Kilbride enjoyed for his lunch just weeks ago, according to budget documents we obtained.

As for the second meal, we ordered a hand-packed, short rib burger, along with a side of fries — substitutable for a list of other sides — and a glass of soda. The total for this sizable meal was just $16.

When we e-mailed Kilbride asking how this meal was approved, Chism replied on his behalf that not only was it approved, but that “during the budgeting and voting process not a single question or argument was raised.” Days ago, we asked for clarification of what this process included, but we have still not received a response.

This was all in addition to $22 breakfasts and $32 dinners. In an exclusive interview with Logan Berkowitz, former Student Body President, he was surprised they used public money to buy their breakfast.

“We always made sure to stay in a hotel that provided free breakfast to hotel guests, and we had dinner for about $11 per person at an Italian restaurant, which included a main course, appetizer and drink,” he said, based off his immediate memory. He made note that during his administration, they used their large group size to leverage discounts whenever travel was necessary.

To see the menu from the restaurant where Kilbride ate, “Eleven,” click here.

To see our receipt from restaurant where we ordered our meals, click here.

The Villas

When asked about the sleeping accommodations, Kilbride acknowledged that “by staying in group style villas, and restricting travel to Orlando, [SGA was] able to save student money.” We decided to take a tour of one of the Villas in the same area they stayed to see what sort of accommodations they considered to be “money-saving.”

The first red flag this raised, which we asked Kilbride about and still have not received a response, was why it was necessary to stay at the Reunion Resort overnight when it is only about a half hour away from UCF. If SGA really wanted to save students money, why didn’t he and the members of his cabinet stay in their own homes just a short drive away? We asked this question to Kilbride directly, and still have not received an answer.

When a Registered Student Organization asks SGA for money to be able to go on conferences, they must go through a special committee that approves the financial allocations. Kilbride’s spokesperson compared the retreat’s funding to these student groups, claiming Kilbride’s cabinet received the same treatment in terms of the $250 per student standard conference travel allowance. However, we at KnightNews.com obtained the offical document SGA uses to allocate money to these other groups, and found this statement:

“Unless there is an exception given by the University President, or designee, hotels are not reimbursable expenses if the overnight (or longer) stay is less than 50 miles from the traveler’s headquarters or home.”

This Conference, Registration and Travel form is made public on SGA’s website. Read it for yourself here.

KnightNews.com checked Google maps, and it placed the resort just 44.4 miles from UCF. This begs the question of why Kilbride’s administration can stay at a resort overnight within 50 miles of UCF, but ordinary students are held to a different standard? We asked Kilbride, and he still has not responded.

Once the KnightNews.com crew finally stepped inside the villa, we couldn’t believe what we found. It was a lavishly decorated, three bedroom villa overlooking a signature golf course and pool made available to guests, with tennis courts and a pro shop just feet away. The villa was complete with stainless steal appliances, granite counter tops, crown molding, spacious living, dining areas and luxurious furnishings and art.

At first, we thought there was no way Kilbride would have been approved to stay in a place like this, so we asked Reunion Resort staff if the Center Court villa we toured was nicer and more luxurious than others, and we were told they are all just as luxurious and well-equipped.

To top it off, it came to our surprise that many of the villas at Reunion Report are actually owned by private individuals, who share the profits of villa rentals 50/50 with the resort. Were the villas Kilbride stayed in owned by a private individual? If so, who was that person? Once again, we asked and still have not received an answer.

The Disney Tickets

When we sent our initial e-mail to Kilbride asking about the retreat, Chism defended him, calling Kilbride “a guardian of student dollars and interests.” He even told us something that we found very interesting, and that is that the Disney tickets used to take the 33 members of Kilbride’s cabinet to the theme park were actually not purchased with student money, but “were donated free of charge by individuals in the UCF community.”

KnightNews.com decided to look into the rules regarding public employees’ receiving gifts, such as Disney tickets, and we came across the UCF Code of Ethics. Section A, entitled “Prohibited Actions or Conduct,” reads as follows:

  1. Solicitation and Acceptance of Gifts. Public employees may not solicit or accept anything of value, such as a gift, loan, promise of future employment, favor or service, that is based on an understanding that their vote, official action, or judgment will be influenced by such gift

In addition to the UCF Code of Ethics, we looked at the Florida Commission on Ethics. On page 2, section III, entitled “Ethics Laws,” it includes a similar statement. It also lists the UCF Board of Trustees, which Kilbride sits on, as a body required to fill out paperwork to disclose gifts.

In an effort to fight for ethics at UCF, we asked Kilbride who donated the tickets and why, and we still have not received an answer — three days later.

However, in our interview with Logan Berkowitz, we asked what the procedures were for accepting gifts during his SGA presidency. He said the rules were very tight regarding gifts, requiring transparency.

KnightNews.com is still looking to see if these Disney tickets need to be reported through the proper channels, and we will post any findings we uncover.

Check out this photo of Kilbride and a few members of his cabinet enjoying a ride on Disney’s Splash Mountain here.

AS SGA’S REVIEW CONTINUES, WHAT’S NEXT?

After KnightNews.com asked tough questions, retained an attorney and interviewed County Commissioner Linda Stewart, who called for a review of SGA policies, the student body now awaits a response from Mike Kilbride and the embattled organization.

We will continue gathering as much information as possible, keeping our readers informed.

If you know of any information related to this story that needs to be brought to public light, call or text the KnightNews.com hotline at 407-5-TIP-UCF.

78 COMMENTS

  1. Ok, this is a very juvenile reporting job, I Care little about the dollar amount that a plate of food cost the UCF students, or how awesome a pool the SGA officials got to swim in on our budget. This article should have focused on the ethics of these actions and less on the luxury SGA admins enjoyed. Also, the fact that knightsnews does not find and $8,000 excursion “neccesary” is trivial at best, who are you to pass judgement on such a thing, you have no idea how the inner workingings of SGA operate . Concluding this response, if you, Andrew Stein, were in the same position as Mike Kilbride, I would not expect anything but the same. One must remember we are all humans and inherently evil less that fact that these are politicians, which adds some extra evil ingriedient to the stew. As far as I’m concerned, A. Not suprised, B. Reporting was Juvenile(You would never see something like this on CNN), C.Knightsnews blew there watchdog job on thsi story because, 1. It did not make me angry at Mike Kilbride,and 2. It actually made dislike knights news. Better luck next time knightsnews.

  2. http://prezi.com/o8_czcbj0wyw/8000-dollar-sga-retreat/

    So I am just curious – has there been a KnightNews response to the above link? Did anyone call Channel 9 to have them investigage? BTW, an organization using their budget on a team building retreat is a standard practice in the business community. Even in this bad economy, companies still have a budget for retreats and as long as they stay within the budget, no one would question it. SGA had a budget, they spent their budget. Who cares? BUT if the above link is true, I am appalled at KnightNews not SGA. It seems KnightNews is more interested in getting publicity for themselves and is damaging the schools image rather than looking at this logically. They had a budget – the budget was approved and has been spent in the past (apparently some of the KnightNews folks even benefitted, is the real issue that the Kilbride found such a gorgeous place for his $?). Honestly for those out there looking for vacation spot, this place is very reasonable for a 3 bedroom villa on the golf course, 6 miles from Disney. I priced it after seeing the article. $315.00. I don’t know what SGA paid, but they got villas instead of hotels to form a team bond and those rooms are cheaper than getting three rooms in most hotels in Disney for a night. You can’t have a retreat and then tell them to drive home. It’s a team building retreat, you don’t separate. You stay together. Your still in college, but the real world is coming – there are budgets established and money spent every day in corporate america. Unless you work for the united states government, you typically aren’t having a news agency coming after you to validate what you spent your budget on.

  3. Regardless is Killbride is guilty or not this is a great story – its about time some new source is putting pressure on student gvnmt to become more transparent. Its crazy that they spending so much on a stupid retreat which they can just have in the union. Its my money, i want it spent wisely. Please 🙂

  4. wow that slide show just broke everything down and proves how worthless knightnews really is as a news organization. but I still don’t understand where the Disney tickets came from?
    KNIGHTNEWS! find out who donated the tickets and then run a story on it. Don’t run stories about how your corrupt news organization was a part of the SGA cabinet that rose costs for retreats in the first place! Did you think we weren’t going to find out?
    give up on reporting meaningless news! and look for the truth! take a few classes in journalism ethics and you might actually be credible.
    Hey knightnews, you should run a follow up story and add the slide show to it! you know? the one that mentions the knightnews team who has been involved in this scandal the entire time. I dare you! DONT HIDE ANYTHING WHEN YOU REPORT! report it all and with all the facts!

    here you go, all you have to do is write another story about this…
    http://prezi.com/o8_czcbj0wyw/8000-dollar-sga-retreat/

  5. Dear Knightnews,
    Please stop with all the whining and bickering over an SGA President who is doing his job. He was handed the budget by ASF (That’s Activity and Service Fee office in case you didn’t know) and followed through on the budget THEY gave him. He did not magically steal $8,000 from the operating budget overnight to make plans for what you call a “lavish getaway.” The budget was approved by ASF and the SGA senate, which should come as no surprise since the same amount has been approved for the past 3 years. I know it hurts to think back on losing the past 2 student elections that you put an enormous amount of time, effort, and money in. But you need to realize that in order to become a unified student body we must stop trying to make the smallest (0.0005% to be exact) issues into a huge ordeal. I know these editors on this site have the real facts about the retreat(seeing as they went on one very similar when they were on SGA). Use the real facts when you create a story like this, don’t fabricate it to something that will cause unnecessary negative attention towards our university .

    The purpose of news is not to tell people what to think, but what to think about. Your story only handles one side of the argument, yours. By doing this you are succumbing to the negative stereotypes placed on news organizations for their one-sided bias on news stories. Your site is seen by thousands of UCF students, you should at least show them respect by presenting both sides…

    But then again, why should we as students ask so much from you? This is at the bottom of your website: “Copyright © KnightNews.com 2010.Not an official UCF Newspaper. An independent publication covering UCF news, or University of Central Florida news. All Rights Reserved.”

    Just in case you missed it here it is again: “Copyright © KnightNews.com 2010.Not an official UCF Newspaper. An independent publication covering UCF news, or University of Central Florida news. All Rights Reserved.”

    “Not an official UCF Newspaper.” Please start acting like one.
    I guess this just proves the old saying holds true, ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT.

  6. Logan,

    You may want to check your facts. Your retreat didn’t spend the same amount of money, it spent $10,518, $2,518 over budget. Perhaps if you paid a little more attention to your cabinet while you were President then your administration would have created at least one student service.

  7. What Mike Kilbride is doing is comparing two completely separate things. It is like saying that a dinner cost $500 and another dinner cost $300 dollar so whoever spent the $300 amount is more fiscally responsible then the person who spent $500. Well why doesn’t anyone ask the question; how many people did the 500 dollars feed vs the 300 dollars? If I fed 1000 people for $500 vs 100 people for $300 then I would have to say the group that ate for $1000 dollars did a better job using the money. Congrats Kilbride you spent $8,000 but you only brought 32 people! My retreat spent the same amount of money for almost double the amount of people. I wish we had enough money to stay in resorts and eat expensive meals.

  8. I don’t know who is giving Kilbride advice, but he should have apologized about this from the start, opened up the books, explained what happened… and asked for forgiveness.

    Tell us it was only .0005 % only rubs salt in our wounds. It’s hurtful to know how little $8,000 means to Kilbride when it means so much to all of us who pay his salary.

  9. Also… has Kevin ever gone on a retreat? Think about that before you attack someone.

    Logan already admitted what his “retreat” was like… and they had $13 dollar dinners — not $35 lunches!

  10. If SGA would release public records without forcing Kevin to get a lawyer, I bet he would request all that and publish it.

    No SGA retreat ever stayed at a lavish 5 star resort until Kilbride came along.

    If you think this story is biased, check out this one: http://www.wftv.com/news/24493358/detail.html

    Like that channel 9 reporter said, when the economy is bad and tuition is up — you adjust! Kilbride refused. I think ch 9’s questions were actually tougher than anything Stein could come up with. Ch 9 came out and played up Kilbride’s impeachment more than KN even did!

    I am pretty sure Fox 35 did the story today too, and probably a bunch of others.

    There’s a reason so many are outraged over the retreat this year and not in years past — this retreat was outrageous, and should never happen again.

  11. One last thing, on a personal note to the article’s author (and his superior, Kevin Wolkenfeld): I challenge you to fully and publicly disclose on KnightNews your entire relationship to these $8000 cabinet retreats, including the following:

    I challenge you to disclose that you went on an $8000 cabinet retreat when you worked as PR Coordinator in Logan Berkowitz’s cabinet. I challenge you to disclose that you were silent on the issue then.

    I challenge you to disclose the hotel YOU stayed on that retreat, the meals that YOU ate on that retreat, and all the activities YOU and your fellow cabinet members participating in on that retreat–whether they were on the “official” cabinet retreat agenda or not.

    I challenge you to disclose that you were silent on this issue in your campaign for Student Body President, despite the fact that Berkowitz had by that point requested an additional $8000 for the next President’s cabinet retreat–which would have been your own cabinet retreat had you won.

    I challenge you to disclose that some KnightNews staff members, including yourself, Randy Marsden, and Zeve Salman all attended the first-ever $8000 cabinet retreat as Logan’s cabinet members. I further challenge you to disclose that KnightNews Founder Max Friedman, and KnightNews-endorsed Presidential candidate Daniel Seef (who ran with current KnightNews Editor-In Chief Kevin Wolkenfeld), were on cabinet and complicit when the Hollinger/Berkowitz administration first approved of having $8000 cabinet retreats.

    I challenge you to ask yourself, Logan Berkowitz, and the other members of KnightNews who were involved in these $8000 cabinet retreats in the past the same questions that you have asked (or will ask, or want to ask) Kilbride about his own retreat–and to just as rigorously pursue answers to ALL of them.

    ***I challenge you to disclose ALL of the above information in a KnightNews article.*** …And I challenge you to not delete my posts in a cowardly attempt to hide from the truth.

    If you have any integrity, you will take up my challenges. I do not have the time, nor the money, nor the staff, nor the website to challenge your deception and hypocrisy… nor does anyone else. So it’s up to you. You can either face up to the fact that you participated in an $8000 cabinet retreat and make it known, or you can continue to pollute the public sphere with your dishonest one-sided critique of the issue. Your choice entirely, really. The only thing I can hope to appeal to is your sense of honor, your integrity, your honesty, your decency as a human being. I would like to think that would be enough, but ultimately it’s up to you.

    If Stein should fail my challenges, I would hope that the KnightNews Editor-in-Chielf would intervene and set the story straight. (If you need any information to corroborate my claims about the *entire* story of these $8000 cabinet retreats, the SGA/ASF offices are full of public records, like TRFs and Group Travel Rosters, that do.) Kevin, this entire situation is ultimately your responsibility. But again, the only thing I can hope to appeal to is your sense of honor, your integrity, your honesty, your decency as a human being. I hope that’s enough, but again, it’s your choice whether or not those things matter enough to you to do the right thing.

  12. Has anyone stayed at a Five Star luxury world class resort before Kilbride became involved in planning these things?

    Had anyone gotten $35 per plate meals.

    There’s a reason 2 county commissioners and several television stations are jumping all over this — it’s wrong and the line has been crossed.

    Instead of defending it, Kilbride should apologize. Standing strong in support of such waste will lead to regime change… and we all know it…

  13. Hey everyone, let’s play some trivia!

    Question: What’s the difference between Kilbride’s $8,000 cabinet retreat and Logan Berkowitz’s $8,000 cabinet retreat?

    Answer: Andrew Stein didn’t get to go on Kilbride’s.

    …Andrew Stein didn’t complain when *he* got to go on an $8000 retreat as President Berkowitz’s PR Coordinator, nor did he mentioned how much it “bothered him” when he ran for Student Body President himself later that year–even despite the fact that before he ran, President Berkowitz requested yet another $8000 for the next Student Body President’s cabinet retreat, which would have been spent by “President Stein” had he won.

    And never mind that the Founder of KnightNews, Max Friedman, was in cabinet as Director of Communications the year that Logan was Vice President–the year that SGA first approved an $8000 cabinet retreat to begin with. And let’s not forget that Daniel Seef, whom KnightNews last endorsed for Student Body President, was also in cabinet that year as Business Strategist. I don’t suppose KnightNews will ever include those little facts in any of their articles, though. Ignorance is bliss… and makes for scandalous news stories, too.

    The pot is calling the kettle black.

  14. ($8000 / 32 students) = ($250 each / 3 days) = $83.33 per person, per day for room and meals. That sounds like quite a deal to me.

  15. I find it very interesting that the opponents of Kilbride work for Knightnews and have influence over these stories. I am sure that Knightnews has looked into the fact that students working on behalf of the Seef and Wolkenfeld campaign were asking for donations from the local business community in exchange for guaranteed business from their administration if they were elected. I am sure that this would make a great story for Channel 9 followed by the fact that these people work for knightnews who is pushing this story.

  16. @its not so much and all the other students who post its not that much.

    As of 2008 (2005 statistics), the World Bank has estimated that there were an estimated 1,345 million poor people in developing countries who live on $1.25 a day or less. This compares to the later FAO estimate of 1.02 billion undernourished people. Extreme poverty remains an alarming problem in the world’s developing regions.

    I think id rather see my money donated to the less fortunate than to Kilbride and His people. Half of them get paid to not do anything. I bet students would do their jobs for free and take class credit or a nice letter of Req, than a fat pay check and a lavish vacation. After all Isnt our campaign now UCF Unite or Unite UCF? Instead Kilbride is changing it to UCF Divide.

    Hey Kilbride You dont seem to stop for the students so stop for the People starving of hunger each year. Make a difference right?

  17. Since 53,000 or so kids go to UCF and have to pay tuition, every person would of only paid 15 cents each out of their tuition for this (.15 cents times 53000 is $8000)…thats nothing…

  18. You guys are getting so much attention! County commissioners, major news stations, etc. all calling you after you break big stories.

    If Kilbride doesn’t step down, at least he knows he won’t get away with stunts like that anymore.

  19. While I’m not saying I condemn or condone this story, it was picked up by Channel 9 and on the 10PM news. In my four years at UCF I have never seen anything quite like this.

Comments are closed.