Regents settle lawsuit over presidential search meetings

BY SCOTT RAYNOR | JUNE 22, 2009 7:21 AM

The state Board of Regents was found violating Iowa’s Open Meetings Law during the 2007 UI Presidential Search. The settlement requires the regents to pay over $65,000 to a former UI professor, Harold Hammond, who brought the suit.

“The main goal was to have the university publicly admit that it was subject to the law and that it violated the law, and it has agreed to do that and has done that,” said Hammond’s lawyer, Gregg Geerdes.

The regents admitted wrongdoing, though they said it was unintentional, court records show. Though Hammond agreed to the settlement, he still disputes that claim.

In the settlement, the search committee admitted to violating Iowa law in four distinct ways during the presidential search that lead to the hiring of UI President Sally Mason.

The committee met in closed meetings when it was required to have open discussion. The members discussed issues unrelated to the original intent of the closed-session meetings. The committee failed to give adequate notice for meetings and made its final decision on its presidential selection in a closed meeting.

In the document, the regents claims that it acted in accordance with the professional opinion of its attorney and believed in “good faith” it was complying with the law.

Geerdes expressed skepticism about the board’s statements.

“There have been reports that indicate that these are minor technical violations of the law, but in my view, they are very blatant, persistent, and serious violations of the law,” he said.

UI officials agreed to the settlement, and they said they are taking steps to prevent such violations in the future.

“There are plans in place that in the future members of search committees will receive training on how to comply with open-meetings law,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

According to the settlement, the regents will cover Hammond’s court costs. Hammond has agreed not to divulge any further information regarding the search-committee meetings.

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