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Board of Governors head tells legislators the vote for chancellors' raises should have been open

Interim Board of Governors chairperson Lou Bissette (center) answered legislators' questions about the board's transparency.
Interim Board of Governors chairperson Lou Bissette (center) answered legislators' questions about the board's transparency.

Lou Bissette, who took over as the head of the board after maligned former Chairperson John Fennebresque stepped down last month, told the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations the board should have held the vote on raises for UNC-system chancellors during open session.

At an unplanned meeting Oct. 30, the Board of Governors voted in closed session to approve raises for 12 system chancellors, including a $50,000 pay bump for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chancellor Carol Folt.

“It would have been in the best interest of the board to return to open session to vote on the chancellors’ salaries,” Bissette said Wednesday.

The board came under fire from both legislators and academics for not immediately releasing the specifics about the raises as well as the vote totals and minutes from the meeting. This closed meeting followed a 10-month period where both the firing of President Tom Ross and the selection of President-elect Margaret Spellings were criticized for being convoluted.

Bissette, along with board Secretary Joan Templeton and system General Counsel Thomas Shanahan, were peppered with questions about the closed-off nature of the board, with a focus on the impromptu Oct. 30 meeting.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, and Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, each had multiple questions for board representatives at Wednesday’s meeting about their closed session procedures as well as the voting processes and methodology behind the chancellors’ raises.

Legislators requested all documentation from the board’s closed session Oct. 30, but the board withheld the information until a vote could be taken during an unplanned meeting Friday.

“This request was just a little bit different,” Bissette said Wednesday when asked why a vote was needed to release the information.

“We don’t believe closed session information had even been requested before. Although we agreed you had authority to receive it, we didn’t have a procedure to do so. I believe the board should have a role in authorizing that request.”

One board member at Friday’s meeting was concerned with the legislature’s level of involvement in the UNC-system.

“I think what has been one of the keys to preserving academic excellence here has been the insulation of the University from political control,” board member Joe Knott said Friday. “The legislature should not be involved directly.”

To prevent possible issues arising in the future, Bissette said the board is planning a “re-education” in governmental transparency regulations.

After a legislator asked his opinion on the potential helpfulness of this type of training, he said the board has one planned for Dec. 10, although he did not confirm the agency or individual that would be leading it. The UNC School of Government was named as a potential trainer.

Bissette pledged several times during the questioning that the board would increase its transparency. He said he will suggest new processes that will require votes to be held in open session, mentioning that he thinks “we made an error there” when they did not disclose the votes from the Oct. 30 meeting.

“I think there have been some lessons learned,” Torbett said.


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