Politics & Government

Bevin says he has ‘absolute authority’ to disband any state board

Gov. Matt Bevin speaks in the Kentucky Capitol on June 21, 2016.
Gov. Matt Bevin speaks in the Kentucky Capitol on June 21, 2016. jcheves@herald-leader.com

Gov. Matt Bevin defended on Tuesday his decision to abolish and replace the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, saying he has “absolute authority” to disband any state board and commission.

The Republican governor also dismissed any concern about possible legal action that Attorney General Andy Beshear might bring trying to stop the changes at U of L, saying Beshear has been “busy” filing frivolous lawsuits against him in recent weeks.

Beshear, who already is challenging in court Bevin’s mid-year university budget cuts, has scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference Wednesday to discuss Bevin’s changes last Friday in U of L’s administration and the revamping of the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.

Beshear would not elaborate Tuesday about his planned news conference, which will be live streamed on his YouTube Channel.

Bevin announced last Friday that he wanted a “fresh start” for the controversy-plagued U of L. He said President Jim Ramsey would be leaving, along with the board of trustees.

Later in the day Friday, Bevin said he would replace the board that oversees state pensions with a new board that will have four additional members appointed by him.

Critics of the changes have questioned Bevin’s legal authority to make broad changes in various boards and commission.

Bevin said Tuesday that he has “absolute authority both constitutionally and legislatively statutorily to disband any board in this state.”

He said other governors have done it “time and time and time and time again.”

He noted that he did not remove any members at U of L. “I abolished the entire board.”

His executive order created an interim 3-member board to oversee the university and asked the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee to submit 30 names to him, from which he will select 10 board members.

The changes will not affect U of L’s accreditation if the changes are handled properly, Bevin said.

Louisville’s WDRD-TV reported that U of L is looking into whether Bevin’s actions create problems for the school’s standing with its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The association has about 100 standards, including a policy that board members can be dismissed “only for appropriate reasons and by a fair process.”

It also expects that a university board be “free from undue influence from political, religious or other external bodies and protects the institution from such.”

Bevin said he has “had nothing but praise” for his U of L changes. He said people have told him that “it has been a long time coming.”

Ramsey has said he will step aside “upon a legal restructure” of the board.

The former chairman of the retirement systems board, Thomas Elliott of Jefferson County, sued Bevin last Friday in Franklin Circuit Court, claiming Bevin did not have the authority to remove him from the panel.

Elliott’s attorney, Kevin L. Chlarson, filed an amended complaint Tuesday to include Bevin’s latest order last Friday reorganizing the board.

Also, Ched Jennings, an attorney for unions in another suit against Bevin, said Tuesday that Judge Phillip Shepherd has accepted an amended petition he filed Monday in a lawsuit against Bevin’s reorganization of a panel that nominates to the governor administrative law judges to hear complaints about workers’ compensation claims

Jennings also said the judge has set a hearing in that case for 9:30 a.m. June 29.

Last month, with an unprecedented six vacancies to fill, Bevin abolished the nominating panel, rewrote the law that governed it and then re-created it with new members, all by executive order.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics