Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Controversy Continues...

More from Dave Newbart of the Chicago Sun-Times today on the continuing controversy over the way the University of Illinois handled (or failed to handle some would say) the Chief Illiniwek decision. Be sure to read the article in its entirety because it is outstanding but here are a few of the excellent questions raised in the article:

Because there was virtually no public debate, neither critics nor supporters of the chief really know what happened. Was there any disagreement? Was the decision unanimous? Was this solely a decision by the board of trustees or was the university administration involved?

In 1990, seven members of the board were willing to take a public stance on the issue. They passed a resolution to n the chief. That resolution was repeatedly cited as school policy until this month's decision.

If there was a "consensus," how could it overrule a formal resolution? Although the university counsel, Thomas Bearrows, did not return a call, other legal experts didn't think it could.
"Nothing I have seen would indicate that," said Ann Lousin, a professor at John Marshall Law School and former chairwoman of the Illinois Civil Service Commission. Dawn Clark Netsch, a Northwestern law professor and a former state lawmaker and comptroller, agrees that the earlier resolution "set a precedent" for future board action.

Where did any deliberations take place? Presumably in closed session, which the board believes is OK because it faced lawsuits against the chief. Beyond that, officials emphasize that Eppley -- a law partner of former Speaker of the Illinois House Lee Daniels -- was careful not to violate the letter of the state's Open Meetings Act -- by conferring with trustees privately, but individually.

But should one of the state's most powerful boards make its most highly anticipated decision in years completely outside the bright lights of the board room? "It would certainly seem to be an end run around the Open Meetings Act," Lousin said.

Perhaps more disturbing, said Netsch: What stops the board from creating future policy this way? "That's a little scary," said Netsch. "If they can do that by having the president just call up people and make decisions, they can do that on other issues."

That should be of concern no matter which side of the chief debate you're on.

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