University of Louisville booster says offer to fund Ramsey's pay - WDRB 41 Louisville News

University of Louisville booster says offer to fund Ramsey's pay not a conflict

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J.D. Nichols J.D. Nichols
U of L President James Ramsey U of L President James Ramsey

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Despite his business ties to the University of Louisville Foundation, real estate developer J.D. Nichols said his offer to fund U of L President James Ramsey’s incentive compensation does not pose a conflict of interest because he personally had no involvement in setting Ramsey’s pay.

Nichols, whose company NTS Development has a stake in three new office buildings on U of L’s Shelby Campus, wrote in a letter published in today’s Courier-Journal that he’s directing some of his donations to fund incentive compensation from the foundation for Ramsey and other key U of L leaders.

Nichols, 74, announced a $10 million gift to the foundation a year ago. U of L’s Nucleus area downtown has been named the J.D. Nichols Campus for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In a phone interview Friday, Nichols said his offer to fund Ramsey’s compensation is not problematic because Ramsey’s pay arrangements were already agreed to years ago without his involvement.

“If it was a future deal, I would agree 100 percent – I shouldn’t be involved. This was long before I had anything to do – before I even knew about it,” said Nichols, a U of L law graduate and former trustee.

The terms of Ramsey’s most recent employment contract – which runs through 2020 – were agreed to in late 2011 and codified last year.

NTS, of which Nichols is chairman, co-owns two new suburban office buildings – 600 and 700 N. Hurstbourne Parkway – with the U of L Foundation on state land dedicated to U of L. The foundation and NTS are working on a third office building, 500 N. Hurstbourne Parkway.

The foundation’s stake in the buildings is 51 percent; NTS has 49 percent.

Given their eastern Jefferson County location, the pristine “Class A” buildings command some of the highest office rental rates in the city.

Now the foundation, of which Ramsey is also president, is seeking zoning changes that would allow retail buildings and a hotel on the Shelby Campus, though a partner developer for those projects has not yet been chosen.

Nichols’ open letter was posted to a U of L website earlier this week and sent to the university’s alumni email list at the direction of Dr. Robert Hughes, chairman of the Board of Trustees and of the foundation’s Board of Directors.

In the letter, Nichols calls recent criticism of Ramsey’s pay and that of his top aides “absolutely absurd.”

Ramsey’s pay totaled more than $2.5 million in 2014, according to a consultant hired by U of L – including more than $800,000 in “tax gross-ups” meant to cover his income taxes on certain portions of his compensation. (READ THE REPORT HERE).

Even excluding some items, his estimated pay in 2015 -- $1.6 million – is more than twice the median pay of presidents at comparable universities, the consultant found.

Most of Ramsey’s pay comes from U of L’s separate $1.1 billion foundation, and Nichols wrote that foundation donors like him are the only ones who have a right to decide how that money is spent.

On Friday, Nichols said scrutiny in the media over Ramsey’s pay has been “so negative for Louisville and for the university,” and the sole intent of his offer to fund compensation is to quell the criticism.

“I think Jim Ramsey has done a fabulous job. He’s raised more money for the university than any president that’s ever been out there…I just hate seeing a guy who’s done such a great job getting the hell beat out of him,” Nichols said.

It’s unclear whether the foundation will actually set aside any of Nichols’ donation to pay administrator compensation.

Nichols said he has no contact with foundation officials and no arrangements have been made.

Hughes said no formal written document directing Nichols’ donations has been submitted for the foundation's consideration.

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