Questions surround board’s social event

Rose resigns after meeting

The night before the critical Board of Regents vote not to renew President Randy Dunn’s contract, several board members met at a Regent’s home in Murray, and Board Chairman Constantine Curris said some University business was discussed.

Faculty Regent Jack Rose resigned from the board directly after Friday’s meeting, citing that gathering, among other things, as inappropriate and questionable.

Curris told local NPR affiliate WKMS that the meeting of five or six Regents the night before the quarterly board meeting was a casual social gathering, although board business was discussed. Earlier that day, Regents had met in special session to finalize budget recommendations that had been a hot topic on campus. The president had compiled a tentative list of cuts and revenue makers the week before and had presented them to campus constituencies.

Jill Hunt, the board’s executive coordinator, had sent a memo to members assessing interest in a University-sponsored board dinner Thursday evening, but Rose said there were no takers on the offer. Rather, out-of-town Regents were invited to the private dinner party at a Regent’s home. Rose, Staff Regent Phil Schooley and Student Regent Jeremiah Johnson were not invited. Curris told WKMS that Regent Jerry Sue Thornton did not attend the gathering at Regent Sharon Green’s Murray home.

Curris, who failed to answer repeated phone calls and emails from The News, told WKMS after the meeting that he did not believe the social gathering from the night before violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act, which prohibits public agencies from discussing business without opening the meeting to the public and giving prior notice that a meeting would occur.

“I recall discussing the events of the day; this was right after the committee hearing that went over all the finances,” he said. “There was discussion on the impact on tuition; there was even discussion of the recommendation that WKMS be studied to be sold. There was discussion of the upcoming meeting the next day, but it was all in the context of people talking over a glass of wine. I guess it was an hour or so.”

Dunn confirmed that board dinners are not uncommon, particularly when Regents hold meetings over the course of a two-day period. In fact, the University caters board lunches during the afternoon breaks at quarterly meetings. When those meetings occur, however, Dunn said the University extends invitations to all members and board business is not discussed.

Last week, Lexington, Ky., attorney Jim Deckard sent a complaint to Curris claiming that board members had illegally held the social gathering because a minimal quorum was achieved and University business was discussed. He requests the board’s meeting following the gathering be null and void and that members call a special meeting where the business discussed the night before is made public. The letter, a first step in filing an official complaint with the Kentucky attorney general, asks Curris to respond in writing stating the specific Kentucky revised statute that authorizes the gathering and a description as to why it did not violate the law.

As it applies to language on open meetings, Kentucky law defines meetings as, “all gatherings of every kind, including video teleconferences, regardless of where the meeting is held, (including) regular or special and information or casual gatherings held in anticipation of, or in conjunction with, a regular or special meeting.”

Dunn, whose contract was not renewed by a 7-4 vote the day following the gathering, said he is disappointed by the board’s decision and deeply concerned by the questionable social event.

“Clearly, this is something that needs to be investigated using the appropriate measures and legal authority that exists for such purposes,” he said. “Certainly the law is clear on this. Given the magnitude of the (contract) decision that the social gathering may have been related to, I think it deserves a full review and finding.”

Indeed, those same concerns led former Faculty Regent Rose to resign from the board directly after the March 15 meeting. Rose said he had been considering his options should the board meeting go unfavorably, but, he said, he never expected quite what happened.

Regents had formed an ad-hoc contract review committee early last year that met only once prior to the decision. Pursuant to the committee’s initial charge, the March 15 meeting already anticipated a controversial executive session where committee members would present information they had collected about Dunn’s performance to the full board. Then in May, Curris told The News earlier this year, the board would likely vote on Dunn’s contract.

Rose said he was disappointed after the Board of Regents completed a comprehensive evaluation on the president’s performance a little more than a year ago and did not take action on his contract then. Neither were board members afforded the opportunity to sit with Dunn to discuss the findings verbally. Rather, Curris informally passed a written finding on to Dunn at a meeting the two of them attended. Dunn said Curris denied a request to meet with the board over the issue.

With that, and the prior social gathering, Rose said it was too much.

“The board meeting actually went further south than I would have ever anticipated,” he said. “There were enough people in that meeting that either knew or should have known that the meeting was illegal, or as a minimum, would be construed to be illegal. It’s hard for me to see how you can talk about transparency in a process and have that kind of situation develop.

“(Curris) made the comment that the meeting over a glass of wine was a social kind of thing and that there were five or six people there. Well, not being a wine drinker, I don’t know how many glasses you have to drink before you can’t figure out if you have five or six people there.”

Rose said he is pleased to see an attorney has decided to question the board’s motive, and he said he anticipates a final attorney general decision after a thorough investigation. Rose, who voted in favor of renewing Dunn’s contract, said he does not think the vote represents the majority opinion of the University constituency, especially after both Faculty Senate and Staff Congress passed resolutions of support for Dunn.

Ultimately, with so much uncertainty surrounding the legality of some of the board’s actions and the University now searching for a new provost and president, Rose commented on the ability of Murray State to carry on.

Story by Austin Ramsey, Editor-in-Chief.