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Published: 7/13/2007

UT athletics aide signs pact to return to work

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fronk Fronk
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The only clear line at the University of Toledo yesterday was the one that Suzette Fronk signed on to return to work.

The others - as in lines of communication between UT officials and lines of reporting from Ms. Fronk to her superiors - were hazy at best.

Ms. Fronk, who was fired from her post as assistant athletic director for business affairs May 15 and was prepared to sue the university, signed a letter yesterday stating she would return to her former job at her previous salary of $66,512.

Her reinstatement was ordered by UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, who also approved an internal study that will determine if she should receive a pay increase.

But before Ms. Fronk signed the letter, she was told by a UT official at a meeting at the university that her "solid," or direct line of reporting, was to Senior Vice President for Finance and Strategy Daniel Morissette, not to Athletic Director Mike O'Brien.

Matt Dills, senior director for benefits and employment services, told Ms. Fronk and her lawyer that she would have a "dotted," or indirect reporting, line to Mr. O'Brien.

Kevin Greenfield, Ms. Fronk's lawyer, told The Blade that his client didn't ask to report directly to Mr. Morissette instead of Mr. O'Brien, but welcomed the news.

Records show that Mr. O'Brien and Ms. Fronk had a contentious relationship over the last two years, and it was Mr. O'Brien who fired her two months ago.

But in the ensuing two hours yesterday, those lines of reporting blurred and crossed twice, to the dismay of Ms. Fronk, Mr. Greenfield, and several UT officials.

Thirty minutes after the meeting, Mr. Dills called Ms. Fronk to say he had made a mistake, and that Ms. Fronk was to report directly to Mr. O'Brien.

But about an hour later, Mr. Greenfield received a call from UT legal counsel Peter Papadimos and Bill Logie, vice president of administration, who said the university would honor what was said to Ms. Fronk during the meeting.

She would be reporting directly to Mr. Morissette instead of Mr. O'Brien.

Originally excited about returning to her job at UT - she set her start date for next Thursday - Ms. Fronk said she was uncomfortable with the idea of reporting directly to Mr. O'Brien.

"Had I known that's how it was going to be, I would've at least talked about [returning to work] longer with my attorney, or at least asked different questions," Ms. Fronk said after her phone conversation with Mr. Dills.

Mr. Greenfield was equally perplexed after Mr. Dills' call, but felt better after Mr. Papadimos and Mr. Logie told him Ms. Fronk would report directly to Mr. Morissette.

"Everything's fine, I guess, and she'll be at work on Thursday, "Mr. Greenfield said. "But I would love to know what's going on over there."

Mr. Logie said the intent all along was for Ms. Fronk's "solid" reporting line to be to Mr. O'Brien.

Mr. Logie said what Ms. Fronk signed was a "rescinded letter of termination," and she was to be reinstated in the exact role she had when she left.

He said Mr. Dills was told to rescind her termination and explain her reporting lines, which were meant to be "solid" to Mr. O'Brien and "dotted" to Mr. Morissette, who is now charged with supervising the athletic department's finances and budget.

"I can't tell you why it was mixed up, but it was mixed up," Mr. Logie said.

Mr. Logie said as soon as he learned what Ms. Fronk was told in that meeting, he instructed Mr. Dills to call her back and clarify her reporting lines.

Mr. Logie then informed Dr. Jacobs, UT lawyers, and university spokesman Tobin Klinger of what was happening, and Dr. Jacobs decided to allow Ms. Fronk to report to Mr. Morissette.

"Dr. Jacobs made it clear to all of us that if an agent of this institution made that commitment, then we would honor that commitment," Mr. Logie said.

Mr. Logie and Mr. Klinger said Ms. Fronk was not misled intentionally, nor were her reporting lines reversed because of complaints from within the athletic department.

Even with intense media scrutiny, the threat of a lawsuit, and the involvement of the university's president, the officials blamed the incident on a "miscommunication."

Ms. Fronk was told in May her position was being terminated because of last year's merger between UT and the Medical University of Ohio.

But last week, The Blade obtained an e-mail written by Mr. O'Brien that stated he "eliminated" Ms. Fronk's position and that she was the "ultimate disgruntled employee."

Ms. Fronk had raised concerns of improper spending and other financial practices within the department while the department's deficit grew to more than $1 million.

Her concerns led to investigations by the university and The Blade into UT athletics.

Mr. O'Brien, who records show overruled Ms. Fronk's financial recommendations several times over the past two years, declined to be interviewed about yesterday's events.

In a written statement, UT's athletic director said: "Simply put, it is in the best interests of the University to resolve this issue. I will be working with leadership in our university finance division to develop a model that allows the Athletics Department to utilize their expertise in a way that benefits everyone. "

Mr. O'Brien declined to elaborate. "That's my statement for what happened today."

Contact Joe Vardon

at jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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