Bevin: University of Louisville board should keep meeting despit - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bevin: University of Louisville board should keep meeting despite court order

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin
Steve Pitt, general counsel to Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin Steve Pitt, general counsel to Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Matt Bevin said in a radio interview Wednesday that his newly appointed University of Louisville Board of Trustees should meet and continue conducting business despite a temporary injunction from a Frankfort judge.

On July 29, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd issued the injunction temporarily blocking Bevin's abolition and reconstitution of the U of L Board of Trustees.

Shepherd will later decide whether Bevin over-stepped his legal authority by overhauling the U of L board, and the case appears destined for a final ruling by Kentucky Supreme Court.  

But in an interview Wednesday, WHAS 840 News Radio host Terry Meiners asked Bevin whether his newly appointed board should continue meeting despite Shepherd's order.

"They've got work to do -- absolutely. Their job is to govern, and that is exactly what I think they should do," Bevin said, calling his group of appointees "more substantive and serious" than the board that Bevin abolished by executive order in June.

Earlier in the interview, Bevin said the board he appointed is "not enjoined. The new board has authority to meet and they should do exactly that."

However, Shepherd ordered on July 29 that the Bevin-appointed board is "temporarily enjoined" from having authority to act as the duly constituted board governing U of L.

And Bevin's chief lawyer, Steve Pitt, told reporters on Aug. 8 that Shepherd's order reinstates the board that Bevin abolished. Asked which board would have the power to convene immediately, Pitt said: "Under the court's order, it would be the former board."

UPDATE, 5 pm: Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said in an emailed statement that the governor "firmly believes that the law should be followed," but she reiterated that Bevin disagrees with Shepherd's order, calling it "extremely disconcerting."

"What is clear is that the judge’s temporary injunction order ignores the law by enjoining a legitimately appointed, very qualified board, whose members were not parties to the case and were not even before the court, from acting," Stamper said.

Stamper said Bevin's lawyers filed an appeal of Shepherd's injunction and "will request a prompt hearing."

Bevin's comments drew criticism from Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose lawsuit alleges that Bevin overstepped his authority with the U of L board.

"Gov. Bevin encouraged the defiance of a court order. This is a serious action that should concern all Kentuckians," Beshear said in a statement Thursday. "We live in a country governed by the rule of the law, which must be respected.” 

Bevin's board has not scheduled a meeting since Shepherd's injunction was issued, and there is no indication it plans to do so. Junior Bridgeman, chairman of the Bevin-appointed board, did not return a call on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the previous board made up of appointees of former Gov. Steve Beshear is tentatively planning a special meeting next week, multiple sources have told WDRB.

U of L is operating under an administrative "spending plan" for the fiscal year that began July 1, which includes a 5 percent tuition increase. But neither board has approved a budget, which sets spending and tuition.

Larry Benz, the chairman of the previous U of L board, declined to comment Thursday, calling the situation a "legal issue."

When Shepherd issued his injunction, Benz said the reinstated board would meet and ratify all the actions that Bevin's board took in its three July meetings, including a $690,000 settlement and exit agreement with former university President James Ramsey. But the board has yet to schedule a meeting.

In the interview Wednesday, Bevin said it would be difficult for the Benz-led board to conduct business because of vacancies, which the governor has shown no interest in filling through appointments.

“They don’t even have a quorum,” Bevin said.

The 20-member board has four vacancies – two due to resignations that were meant to create openings for Bevin to cure the board’s racial imbalance with the appointment of racial minority members; and two members whose terms have expired.

But the board’s bylaws state that a quorum is established when a “majority” of board members are present. That would mean only 11 members are needed to have a meeting.

Even so, the board is restricted from taking any significant personnel actions until Bevin appoints at least two racial minority members, according to the terms of a legal settlement reached in March. 

Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel, told reporters earlier this month that he didn’t know whether Bevin was "willing" to fill vacancies on a board that he believes he lawfully abolished. 

"Can the governor properly appoint members of a board that he believes is not the legal board at this point in time? That’s a tough issue," Pitt said.

Pitt added that there aren't enough vacancies on the board for Bevin -- with a single round of appointments -- to cure the board's political imbalance. According to state law, the board should have 7 Republicans; it currently has one, Pitt said.

"Four (openings) just simply will not bring the board into compliance," Pitt said.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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