Alum asks representatives to reconsider Board actions

This letter is to express my deep concern about the political machinations going on in a blatant attempt to control the Board of Regents at Eastern Kentucky University. I attended school on the Eastern campus from first grade through college. I’m extremely proud of the university and proud of the fact that it has always been free of fiscal and administrative problems and partisan politics that have so often beset other higher education institutions in Kentucky-until now.

I feel it is my duty to publicly express my dismay and disappointment at the attempted political removal of the EKU Board of Regents chairman C. Fred Rice.

I realize many may not know Mr. Rice. He was raised in the Tyner neighborhood of Jackson county. (He was actually born in the old Pattie A Clay Infirmary here in Richmond, Dr. Hugh Mahaffey being the attending physician.) He came to Eastern on a basketball scholarship under the tutelage of Paul S. McBrayer. His mother lived in Richmond many years. His brother is in business in Richmond; his nephew lives in Richmond. Mr. Rice has earned bachelor and master’s degrees from Eastern. He taught high school and coached high school basketball here in central Kentucky for several years.

He started part-time in insurance business, became eminently successful, rose to the top of his company and has been in many business ventures since. He lived a number of years in Danville and Louisville, but following a heart operation, he moved to Naples, Fla., seven or eight years ago. About a year ago, he moved to the Virgin Islands (a United States possession). He has been on the Eastern Board of Regents since 2000 and was elected chairman of the board by the board members in 2001.

He presided over the selection of Interim President Eugene Hughes, an extremely popular and capable choice, and after an extensive search, presided over the selection of Joanne Glasser, Eastern’s capable, energetic and personable new president. He has presided over the hiring of a popular interim athletics director and, now, a new permanent athletics director as well as a new football coach. He has led the Board in righting the terrible financial imbalance Bob Kustra created. He has never missed a meeting of the Board and he never sought nor received 1cent of travel reimbursement or any other compensation. He has the prominence and success in the business world that universities everywhere seek for service on governing boards.

Recently, the General Assembly enacted a law that changed the residency requirements for members of the Board of Regents of the state’s regional universities (it does not apply to the University of Kentucky or to the University of Louisville) requiring the first time that one Regent who was from outside Kentucky must live within the 50 states (and thus, not the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or any other U.S. possession). An amendment was added to the bill to make it effective immediately upon its passage and signing by the governor (which the governor, at the request of Sen. Worley, promptly signed). Sen. Worley and Rep. Moberly were the moving force behind this legislation.

The sole object of this legislation was to ex post facto, make C. Fred Rice, chairman of the EKU Board of Regents, instantly ineligible to continue serving on the board. When queried as to the reason of this sudden blindsiding of Mr. Rice, Mr. Worley first said that he thought the residency requirements should be even further restricted to Kentucky alone (perhaps he might go even further and restrict eligibility to residency in the few counties in Eastern’s “service area”).

Then both Sen. Worley and Rep. Moberly state that they acted because Mr. Rice was not a Kentucky taxpayer. Wrong. Mr. Rice owns property in Kentucky and does pay Kentucky tax, as does his family. His two daughters are in business in Kentucky. If they were referring to income tax, Mr. Rice’s move to the Virgin Islands in no way affected this as he did not have to pay Kentucky income tax once he became a resident of Florida. He lived in Florida at the time of his appointment to the Board.

All of the members of the Board of Regents signed a letter urging the governor to veto this hatchet legislation with the exception of Richmond’s Gary Abney and James T. Gilbert (and one regent from Breathitt County who may not have been contacted).

Mr. Gilbert preceded Mr. Rice as chairman of the Board and through his “leadership” brought us Bob Kustra as president. Kustra, a man whose ego vastly exceeded his abilities, had what was in essence an eight-year contract (four with near-automatic renewal), but he had so messed up the university finances, personal matters and general operation that he resigned after only two years in the position. Mr. Gilbert resigned as chairman shortly before Kustra threw in the towel, but strangely, he chose to remain on the board as somewhat of a dissident.

Gary Abney, perhaps caught in the crossfire, was appointed by Gov. Patton, with the endorsement on his application by both Sen. Worley and Rep. Moberly. According to The Eastern Progress, there is a question as to Mr. Abney’s qualification to stay on the Board because of the anti-nepotism law. Rep. Moberly inserted in the budget bill in 2002 an exception to this anti-nepotism requirement making it not apply if the regent’s kinsman had worked for the university three or more years. However, Gov. Patton vetoed that bill.

It is reported the same exception has been inserted in the present budget bill. The governor could “line item” veto the add-on, but that now seems unlikely. However, that may pan out, I certainly have no objection to Mr. Abney’s continued service, but mention this only to explain his failing to sign the letter seeking the governor’s veto.

Whatever the reason for this unusual near-secret attack (practically no one heard of it until after its passage) it was not for the limp reasons given by our two legislators (but never publicly voiced at any time before the bill’s passage).

The personal vendetta in this type of legislation is even more obvious by the “emergency” clause making it effective immediately. In more than 50 years of closely tracking the activities of our General Assembly, this is the first time I’ve ever known or been aware of a bill so obviously directed at only one individual. I am of the opinion that the changing of the qualifications of an appointment or elected office will not affect the duly qualified and acting incumbent but will apply only to his successor; but, of course, that may well have to be decided by a court of law.

Harry Moberly has built an enviable reputation as one of the most capable legislators in the General Assembly. He has chaired the powerful appropriations and revenue committee for a number of years. He has been a great friend and benefactor of Richmond, Madison County and Eastern. Ed Worley did exemplary service as city manager for the city of Richmond. His is a fast moving star. He has secured a position of high leadership in the Senate after only one term. He has great knowledge and awareness of the problems and needs of the district. He is articulate and capable. It is foreseeable that he may well become governor of our state in the future; certainly he is fully qualified for such high office.

It appears to me that these gentlemen have embarked on a dangerous course that, if successful, could well lead to the discrediting of Eastern by the Commission on Colleges of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (such shenanigans resulted in Morehead being discredited a number of years ago).

Our fine school, the brightest star in Madison County’s crown, its largest employer, its most visible asset, doesn’t need,
cannot tolerate this kind of underhanded political interference in its operation. Both of our representatives are too big, too important, to be part of this cabal. I urge them to reconsider their actions before irreversibly harming our fine university.

James S. Chenault,

Eastern Alum