Calling for a “fresh start” at the University of Louisville, Gov. Matt Bevin announced Friday that he had dismissed all of the current members of the school’s board of trustees. The governor also said that embattled U of L President James Ramsey had offered to step down.
The journalists on Comment on Kentucky explained the ramifications of Bevin’s restructuring at U of L, and discussed another executive order enacted last week to reorganize the board that oversees the state’s beleaguered pension system.
Questions Remain about U of L Shake-up
Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader says Gov. Bevin’s move to disband the U of L board came as a surprise to many of the trustees, who reportedly learned of their dismissal through social media. Bevin appointed a three-member interim board to oversee the school until a new board is in place.
Brammer says the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee has two weeks to provide Bevin with the names of 30 potential trustees. From that list, Bevin will select 10 people to serve on the reconstituted board. Brammer says Bevin will accept nominations of individuals who previously served as trustees at U of L.
Nick Storm of cn|2 says that it is uncertain whether Bevin has the authority to dismiss an entire board, and if he can reorganize it with fewer members than are mandated by state statute. Bevin’s order calls for replacing the previous 17-member board with 10 trustees. (Three trustees who represent students, faculty, and staff at the university are unaffected by the action.)
Attorney General Andy Beshear is reviewing the legality of Bevin’s move. Storm says one of the discharged trustees would have standing to file a lawsuit to challenge the governor’s order. A suit could potentially delay seating the new board as well as Ramsey’s departure from the school.
Ramsey was traveling in Europe last week but he sent the governor a letter offering his “resignation/retirement,” which would take place “upon a legal restructure” of the board. The former state budget director has been president of U of L since 2002. Although lauded by many for raising academic standards, bolstering fundraising, and upgrading facilities, Ramsey has also come under fire for a string of problems at the school.
Deborah Yetter of the Louisville Courier-Journal says Ramsey supported a dean at the university who was later convicted for fraud in connection with more than $2 million in grant moneys. She says there have been other incidents where upwards of $7 million in funds were embezzled or mishandled. The school’s men’s basketball team is under NCAA investigation over allegations that escorts provided sexual favors to players and recruits. And some trustees have questioned Ramsey’s dual role as president of the University of Louisville Foundation.
Bevin cited dysfunction among the trustees as one reason for his decision. Yetter says the board has split into two factions: an establishment group who backs Ramsey, and several newer members who oppose the president. She says trustees who have sought to ouster Ramsey also believe he should be removed as president of the U of L Foundation. They have complained about secrecy and a lack of transparency at the foundation, especially in how it compensates Ramsey.
State Pension Board Also Upended
Bevin issued another executive order late Friday to abolish the current Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees and replace it with a new, larger board of directors. Jack Brammer says the new group will have 17 members compared to the previous 13-member board. The new appointees all have investment backgrounds.
Brammer says the governor took the action to bring more transparency to the management of the state pension systems that are mired in billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities. But an independent group of state retirees is criticizing the move. Brammer says Jim Carroll of Kentucky Government Retirees has urged ousted trustees to litigate the matter.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said Bevin violated an open meetings law by sending state police officers to a KRS trustees meeting last month. Nick Storm says Bevin requested the police presence to prevent former board chair Thomas Elliott from participating in the meeting. Bevin had removed Elliott as chairman in April. Storm reports that Beshear ruled that the state police presence was improper and had a “chilling effect” on the meeting.
State House Races
Kentucky Republicans continue to strategize how they can take control of the state House of Representatives in the November elections. The chamber is the only legislative body in the South to be held by Democrats, who currently have a 53-47 majority. The GOP hasn’t controlled the House since the early 1920s.
Nick Storm says Democratic leadership in the chamber – Speaker Greg Stumbo, Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, and Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly – all face challengers this year. He says that may hinder their ability to help other Democratic candidates on the fall ballot.
Here are several races that Storm considers key contests for both sides:
In the 38th House district in southwestern Jefferson County, incumbent Rep. Denny Butler faces Louisville attorney McKenzie Cantrell. Storm says the 38th is a traditionally Democratic district and Butler used to be a Democrat before becoming a Republican last November. Storm says Butler, who has strong family roots in the district, is expected to receive significant support from the state GOP to help retain the seat. The question, Storm says, is whether Cantrell can raise enough money to make Butler’s party-switch an issue in the campaign.
Democrats also hope to find payback against 12th district Rep. Jim Gooch, who switched his party affiliation to Republican in late December. Gooch’s Democratic opponent is Webster Co. Judge Executive Jim Townsend. The district covers McLean and Webster Counties and parts of Daviess and Hopkins Counties.
The 91st House district race in Breathitt, Estill, Lee, and Owsley Counties and part of Madison County features Democratic incumbent Cluster Howard against Republican challenger Toby Herald. Storm says the two also faced off in 2014 when Howard won by just 14 votes.
Democrats won a special election earlier this year to fill the 62nd House district seat, which was left vacant when former Rep. Ryan Quarles was elected commissioner of agriculture. The fall campaign will be a rematch of that special election contest between Rep. Chuck Tackett and Republican businessman Phillip Pratt. That district encompasses Owen County and parts of Fayette and Scott Counties.
The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.