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Vendor in dispute with Ala. univ. over catering

Wednesday - 9/3/2014, 7:50pm  ET

PHILLIP RAWLS
Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The head of a food services company said officials at Alabama State University threatened to cancel the company's contract after it wouldn't commit to providing thousands of dollars in free catering for the new president's inaugural.

Chairman Nathanial Goldston of Atlanta-based Gourmet Services sent a letter Sunday to the university's trustees, including Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, asking them to investigate what he called "an unethical request" by the administration of new university president Gwendolyn Boyd.

Boyd responded with a statement Wednesday that the termination notice was based on performance issues, independent of any donation. "The contract has not been terminated. Gourmet Services has been issued a notice based on performance-related concerns. The termination notice was independent of any information related to a donation, which was offered by Gourmet Services," it said.

Goldston's letter, first reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, said the company's executive vice president, Alfred Baker, met Aug. 20 with Boyd and other Alabama State officials to discuss inaugural festivities, now underway. Goldston wrote that Baker said the company would contribute $13,000 to $15,000 in food, beverages and catering for the events. But the letter added that a university vice president requested $20,000 at that meeting.

"Mr. Baker was very uncomfortable with the $20,000 request as this is not customary, and the approach was quite questionable," Goldston wrote. He said the company, which provides food services at schools and colleges, is accustomed to requests for sponsorships but was surprised by the size of the request and couldn't commit to that amount.

Goldston said Baker was asked to stay a few minutes after the meeting and was then given a letter, signed by Boyd, saying the university was considering canceling its contract because of problems with its food service in the university cafeteria.

"Gourmet has never experienced a situation in which public officials have demanded an exorbitant level of in-kind food and catering contributions for private galas or presidential functions, and when the demand was not met, handed a notice of termination of its food services contract on the spot," he wrote.

Before writing to the trustees, Goldston sent a letter to the new president on Aug. 27 saying his company had worked to address every complaint brought to its attention. He said the company, which has provided food services at Alabama State for more than 20 years, was not making any contribution to the inaugural activities.

Goldston did not return phone messages left Wednesday at his Atlanta office.

The president of the Alabama State Faculty Senate, Charlie Hardy, said he was present at the Aug. 20 meeting. He said Baker made it clear the company wanted to help with inaugural festivities and added that the official's mention of $20,000 was almost in jest. Hardy said he never considered it a threat.

"I don't think anyone left the room feeling there was anything hard, stiff or demanding about that," he said in a phone interview.

Gov. Bentley, president of the Alabama State board of trustees by virtue of his office, has been a strong supporter of Boyd and recently replaced two trustees who had clashed with her. Bentley said Wednesday he hadn't seen Goldston's letter and couldn't comment on it.


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