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Colleges and Universities Committee

October 29, 2003, 225 Northwest, State Capitol, 10:30 a.m.

Testimony, Toby Marcovich, President, Board of Regents

Thank you Chairman Kreibich and Committee members. I am Toby Marcovich, President of the Board of Regents. I welcome this opportunity to meet members of the Colleges and Universities Committee and hope we can continue our dialogue on this and many issues important to maintaining quality higher education for the future of our state.

I'm here today to share with you the steps the Board has taken to insure full compliance with the open meetings law and changes to our executive salary setting process. Several weeks ago, Regent Walsh spoke with you outlining the steps the Board was planning to take later that same week at its October 10 Board meeting to reconsider its action on executive pay ranges. I believe, as I know you do, that it is important for the public to know and understand the issues that need attention in order to preserve our accessible and affordable public higher education system in Wisconsin. We need the public's trust and support, as we do yours. That is why I sent a letter to the Board of Regents in early September, before the Attorney General had launched an investigation, informing members that I had requested that this issue be reconsidered at our next meeting along with input from a national consultant.

The Board, as was reported to each of your offices October 10, passed a resolution which rescinded its previous action on pay ranges and referred this matter to our Business and Finance Committee. The Committee was charged with gathering further information from our Technical Colleges and other states which might identify new ways in which we might work together to attract and keep our important managers.

We also passed a resolution to change our procedures with regard to determining executive salary ranges, and setting executive salaries, to specify that:

Salary ranges will be adopted by a majority of the full membership of the Board

  • by roll call vote
  • in open session
  • at a regularly scheduled meeting.

These two actions were taken with only two members of the Board, myself and Regent Vice-President Walsh, aware that they would be discussing a settlement agreement with the Attorney General later in the day. The Board was acting without pressure of the settlement hanging overhead. I wanted the Board of Regents to decide this matter on its own merits, not under threat of a lawsuit by the Attorney General.

The other thing the Board did at its October Board meeting was to discuss in a properly noticed closed session a settlement with the Attorney General in which the Board acknowledged:

  • that the wording of the notice for its September 2, 2003 could have been more specific
  • any action the Board had taken at that meeting would be voided
  • the Board in the future would be as specific as possible using terms like "salaries", "pay" or "compensation" as appropriate when these matters were considered, and
  • provide appropriate training to those staff members and employees whose duties include preparing public notices, etc. This, by the way, has already been implemented.

In addition, other important steps have been taken to exceed the requirements of the settlement to improve accessibility of our meetings including:

  • All meeting notices for Regent subcommittees, and any other special regent meetings are being posted on the Board of Regents website (in addition to the notices of the regular meetings).
  • A new protocol for assembling agendas and posting notices has been written and shared with appropriate staff,
  • All meeting notices are being e-mailed to any interested news reporters.

You have heard the Attorney General's presentation outlining the specific terms of the settlement. As was outlined, the Attorney General found that no law was broken in the timing of the meeting notice, the fact that it was a teleconference, or that the meeting was open. There was a room provided and notice given in a paper with a Sunday circulation of 300,000. Anyone, including the media, could have attended the meeting.

The Attorney General did find fault with the specific description of the meeting and we will now have legal counsel review all meeting notices and agenda to assure that the purposes of our meetings are in lay language and as clear to the public as possible. This may be a model for all public bodies covered by the open meetings law. Regarding our closed session to hear from legal counsel on the proposed settlement, in a letter Chairman Kreibich received dated October 23, the Attorney General said, "those reading the notice in effect received sufficient notice of the nature of the matter to be discussed" and "although it could have quoted the specific statutory exemption more thoroughly, I believe it met the statutory requirements." What we are doing is above and beyond the open meetings law.

Our goal is that the Board of Regents and UW System be a model of open public dialogue. If we had it to do over again, we would certainly have done things differently. We will be working hard to recover the public's trust.

I hope you will agree that appropriate steps have been taken to prevent the appearance of stealthy action by the Board in the future. Now we need your help to allow our staff to return to their duties to effectively manage our public resources during this period of unprecedented budget cuts to higher education and refocus on the fiscal crisis the state is facing and how the university can help address workforce needs, economic development, and improved quality of life for our citizens.

Thank you and I would be glad to answer any questions.

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