FRANKFORT — An opinion by a staffer of the state's ethics board suggests that Constantine W. "Deno" Curris, a Lexington native and former Murray State University president, is being seriously considered as the next president of the state's higher education system.
But the opinion, obtained Thursday by the Herald-Leader through an open records request, indicates that Curris would have difficulty in holding the position if his wife, Jo Hern Curris, remains on the Board of Trustees at the University of Kentucky.
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"If the candidate is successful in becoming the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education and the candidate's spouse is still serving on the board of a postsecondary institution governed and regulated by the council, the president would be required to abstain, in writing, from any involvement in all matters relating to the postsecondary institution where the spouse serves," said John R. Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, in a Nov. 18 letter.
Steffen sent the opinion to Dennis L. Taulbee, CPE general counsel, emphasizing that the entire ethics commission has not addressed the issue.
Neither CPE interim President Richard Crofts' Nov. 10 request to the ethics commission for an advisory opinion nor Steffen's reply identified Curris or his wife.
Crofts, presidential search committee chairman John Hall and Constantine Curris did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Jo Hern Curris, an attorney and Harlan County native, said Thursday night in a telephone interview that "no one" has asked her to resign from the UK board.
Asked if her husband is interested in the CPE president, she said he would have to answer that question.
She did say that several university presidents in Kentucky had contacted her husband about the job of leading the state agency that oversees the state's public universities.
"I know he was very upfront with the search committee that I had been named to the UK board," she said. "I don't think he ever expected this to be a problem."
Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Jo Hern Curris last summer as an alumni representative to the UK board.
Jo Hern Curris, who gave $1,000 to Beshear's campaign for governor last year, said, she is "surprised and disappointed with all this talk about whether I should resign from the board if my husband is to be CPE president."
Tom Harris, spokesman for UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., said Todd and Constantine Curris had "a casual conversation" earlier this year about Curris' leading the higher education council.
Curris retired in September from his job as president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C., but he still is on the job.
They still live in the area, his wife said.