Thursday, June 06, 2013

UAA Sports Program Provides More Excitement Than The Teams And Regents Don't Like It Public

Our ride home from the airport last night mentioned the brouhaha over the firing of the hockey coach at UAA.  All this happened after we left and despite the ADN subscription folks assuring me that I could follow the ADN online, while it has some things the print version doesn't (like nasty comments), it's harder for me to peruse the news stories. Besides, I prefer reading the newspapers where I'm traveling.

So I looked online, and found Wednesday's story in the sports section (where it belongs, but not where I'd look online.)  I was struck by the concern for keeping things from the public expressed by Regents:
"Regent Gloria O'Neill of Anchorage called the events 'extremely unfortunate, because it was so public.' 
"'As you think forward, what kind of communication strategy (can you) employ in the future ... so this nastiness does not have to play out in the community?' she asked Case."
Really?!  The university doesn't belong to the regents.  It belongs to the residents of Alaska.  It's not the regents job to hide things from the press and the public.  It's important that the public see the bad as well as the good so they can better judge how well the Regents and the President and the Chancellors are doing.  Here's another regent's comments:
"I don't like to read things in the newspaper before I hear about them (from you)," [Regent Fuller Cowell] said. "In this case I had a dozen emails before I heard anything from the university whatsoever.
"We've got to a figure out a way to communicate instantly with the Board of Regents, or at least keep us in the loop so we're aware this problem is developing so we can seem coherent when people ask us what is happening."
I can understand not wanting to be blind-sided, but exactly how much and about what does this Regent want to be told in advance?  Or is it just this one item because it's become a hot political potato?  It seems like, at least the way the ADN quoted him, his main concern is not to be embarrassed.

After 25 minutes of public discussion, the board took the rest of the conversation behind closed doors. 
From the Board's by-laws:
"B.      Executive Sessions.
To the full extent allowed and pursuant to procedures provided by AS 44.62.310, the board or a committee of the board may go into executive session upon majority vote. Voice votes are authorized on all motions made during executive sessions. At any time during executive session, without regard to how the regent voted, a motion to reconsider the motion to go into executive session may be made by any regent, and discussed by the board or committee in executive session. If the board makes findings during an executive session, the findings will be made a part of the record of the proceedings and will be open to inspection by the public at reasonable times."

AS 44.62.310 discusses what can be discussed in executive session:

(b) If permitted subjects are to be discussed at a meeting in executive session, the meeting must first be convened as a public meeting and the question of holding an executive session to discuss matters that are listed in (c) of this section shall be determined by a majority vote of the governmental body. The motion to convene in executive session must clearly and with specificity describe the subject of the proposed executive session without defeating the purpose of addressing the subject in private. Subjects may not be considered at the executive session except those mentioned in the motion calling for the executive session unless auxiliary to the main question. Action may not be taken at an executive session, except to give direction to an attorney or labor negotiator regarding the handling of a specific legal matter or pending labor negotiations.
(c) The following subjects may be considered in an executive session:
(1) matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the public entity;
(2) subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion;
(3) matters which by law, municipal charter, or ordinance are required to be confidential;
(4) matters involving consideration of government records that by law are not subject to public disclosure.
(d) This section does not apply to
(1) a governmental body performing a judicial or quasi-judicial function when holding a meeting solely to make a decision in an adjudicatory proceeding;
(2) juries;
(3) parole or pardon boards;
(4) meetings of a hospital medical staff;
(5) meetings of the governmental body or any committee of a hospital when holding a meeting solely to act upon matters of professional qualifications, privileges or discipline;
(6) staff meetings or other gatherings of the employees of a public entity, including meetings of an employee group established by policy of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska or held while acting in an advisory capacity to the Board of Regents; or
(7) meetings held for the purpose of participating in or attending a gathering of a national, state, or regional organization of which the public entity, governmental body, or member of the governmental body is a member, but only if no action is taken and no business of the governmental body is conducted at the meetings.  [If anyone can tell me what's in the html code that is making this all bold, please do.  I copied it from the statutes.  It doesn't show bold in the compose page, but does in my preview.]
The ADN article does not tell us what the motion to go into executive session said, so it's not clear why they went into executive session.  Of the four, the only possible two, would be:
(2) subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion;
(3) matters which by law, municipal charter, or ordinance are required to be confidential;
(2) would generally have to do with personnel issues which this is, but it seems to me the discussion was less about Cobb than about the process that led to his firing and possibly pressure applied to the university.  (3) most likely here would also be personnel issues, but there could be other things.  But the motion to take the issue to executive session should have clearly stated the reason.  

What person's reputation and character might have been prejudiced?  It seems the key people involved were Chancellor Case and ex-Athletic Director Cobb.  Case was there and could have asked for the meeting to be public.  Cobb, presumably, wasn't there, so he couldn't.  I'm guessing he well might have.  Or was it because they wanted to discuss the roles of President Gamble and Governor Parnell in the firing of Cobb?  [See Anchorage Daily News May 29, 2013] Those shouldn't have been shielded by an executive session, but I'm not positive. 

Looking at both articles, including some of the comments, it seems to me that the hockey supporters were strongly opposed to Cobb and that supporters of other sports thought he was ok to good.

It also looks like this decision might not have been made by Chancellor Case.  I don't believe that executive session is legitimate if the purpose is to hide the role of University administrators and the governor.  And Cobb's character couldn't be prejudiced any more than it already has been publicly by his opponents and by his own comments given to the ADN.
In a blistering statement given to the Daily News, Cobb said Gamble didn't speak to him or anyone in the athletic department before the university's decision to fire him. He also took aim at Ashley Reed, a lobbyist who was among those who encouraged Parnell to get involved.
"Patrick Gamble may be mentally ill," Cobb said in the statement, "when you give away the university to Ashley Reed and a few local scoundrels, you are by definition insane and I intend to prove it in court.
"Gamble made the decision to fire me without speaking to one employee of the UAA Athletic Department, not one staff member, not one coach, not one student-athlete and certainly not me. Apparently Ashley Reed is the final authority.
Taking this a slightly different direction,  I also want to point out how easy it is for us to read something in newspaper article and remember selected parts.  It was only the Regent statements expressing concern about keeping nastiness out of the public view and not wanting to be embarrassed that I remembered.  Where were the substantive comments about the actual problems raised about sports?  Well, in a second reading, I found that they were there all along.

Regent Jo Heckman of Fairbanks seemed to be referencing that incident when she asked about policies addressing the behavior of authority figures.
"Do we have very stringent policies on acceptable behavior of the heads of different arenas, whether it's hockey or basketball coaches or athletic directors or assistant coaches?'' she said. "Do we have good policies we can hang our hats on?"
Regent Mary Hughes of Anchorage urged the chancellors at UAA and UAF, Alaska's only schools with intercollegiate sports, to stay on top of what's happening in their athletic departments and to make sure those departments don't become too separate from the rest of the university.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Steve, now you know why hockey coach hires are given more coverage than UAA chancellors -- they're obviously more important!


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