By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Price claims there were no discussions about expenses when he fired Jeffrey on January 20. He had discharged her three times in the past, but had always taken her back. This time he was determined not to recant. Price says he spoke with Carol Tullar in December and learned for the first time about "the reign of terror that Jill engaged in regarding Carol and her husband." He decided he had been too hands-off with his staff and wanted to reinvolve himself. Jeffrey saw this as a threat to her authority, he says, and was "very, very angry about it," particularly when he started meeting with employees without her being present. This time, when he told her things were not working out, there were no tears, no plea to let her return. She left, he says, without saying much of anything.
Five days after the firing, Price was invited to what he supposed was a friendly lunch with three board members: Tom Brown, J.D. McCaslin, and Rob Farrell (none of whom would return the Observer's phone calls). The banter during lunch was light, chatty, recalls Price, until McCaslin spoke up. "We need you to be totally honest and don't withhold anything; it will only hinder our ability to help you." He sounded nervous. "Some serious allegations have been made against you."
Price remembers saying, "If some allegations have been made against me, I know who made them. It was Jill." Price tried to tell them that he had fired her a few days before.
But they knew all that. Jeffrey herself was a board member, and she had contacted Kyleen Wright and the other board members. She obviously had their confidence, not to mention some damaging financial records.
"Do you have problems with alcohol?" one of them asked. "Are you abusing prescription drugs?"
Price answered no, absolutely not, to both questions.
"Do you have a history of mental illness?"
Price grew indignant: A vindictive employee was making these claims, he says, and he wanted to know why they were giving them serious consideration. He had been their leader for 17 years.
It was time to go, they said: An emergency board meeting had been called for 2 p.m. at the TUL offices in Addison. Price would not be allowed in the meeting while the charges were presented against him.
Nearly three hours later, Price was asked to appear before the board. Tom Brown led the meeting, and Price was told that the only allegation remaining against him concerned the legitimacy of expense-account charges he had made on the TUL credit card.
"I looked at them and said, 'Which one of you is going to give me back my reputation when you are through with this?'" he recalls. "But they just sat there in silence."
Price says he told them that he would answer the allegations but that he wanted an opportunity to review all the financial records. They agreed. Over the next several days, he became outraged when he learned that four boxes of financial records had been removed from his office. Regrettably for him, outrage wasn't the emotion the board was looking for.
"Income was down and his expense account grew, and that was a deadly combination for the organization," Wright says. "It was important that this be an unbiased investigation, and Bill was not cooperative in the gathering of data, which did not help his case."
Price admits that TUL faced a $40,000 deficit at the end of 1999, but he attributes this more to his emphasis on abstinence education and its increasing cost rather than his own spending habits. "It's photos of doctors with scissors doing partial-birth abortions that gets donors to give. Abstinence education just didn't sell well."
Brown did give Price a partial list of disputed credit-card charges that had accrued since late 1998. On its face, it showed a damning pattern of credit-card excess: Price using his TUL credit card to pay for hundreds of "business meals," sometimes as many as three in the same day; Price using the card to pay for transportation and auto-repair expenses on each of his automobiles; Price using TUL money to pay for the medical bills of his wife and five children.
But Price claims that what the board had allowed him in expenses had not significantly changed since he first became TUL president. He cites a 1986 board resolution that authorized TUL to lease a car for him and pay "all transportation expenses." Price says he interpreted the spirit of this resolution to include all cars he might own. In 1996, the board, concerned with his wife's illness, agreed to pay up to $2,500 worth of medical bills, an amount equal to the deductible under Price's medical-insurance plan. Price claims he interpreted this to mean that he was also entitled to charge up to $2,500 of medical bills both for himself and each of his five children. If the board had any problems with that, says Price, there were financial reports prepared by an accountant that were available at every board meeting.
"I asked the accountant about the expenses," Wright says. "I said, 'Are you trying to tell me that lunch at Arby's is a client conference? How many clients go to Arby's to eat lunch?' That was my first question before she resigned."