Sen. Pushes Open UC Pay Meetings

    The state Senate is considering a bill that would require more transparency at board meetings for public universities, especially when financial compensation for executives is discussed or decided upon.

    The bill, introduced by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), has passed nearly unanimously through both the Senate Education and Judiciary Committees. It will face the Senate Appropriations Committee before moving on to the full Senate.

    The legislation is yet another response from lawmakers to revelations that emerged last year from a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle report, which revealed that the University of California awarded nearly $871 million in publicly undisclosed compensation to employees across the 10-campus system beyond their base pay. The findings have since sparked legislation aimed at removing much of the discretionary decision-making from the university and implementing full transparency in decisions on financial matters.

    So far this year, the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees have handed out multiple executive compensation payouts, as well as increased student fees, according to a statement released by Yee’s office.

    Yee’s spokesman, Adam J. Keigwin, said that students deserve to know where their money is being spent and with this legislation, public universities will no longer make financial decisions behind closed doors. Further, the bill would allow for the public to comment at the time an action is taken, rather than at a designated period before the a meeting is closed.

    “”We need to end the culture of secrecy at the UC and CSU governing boards,”” Yee said in the statement. “”[The bill] will bring much-needed sunshine to these discussions, provide members of the media the democratic access they deserve, and help restore the public’s trust.””

    The University of California has implemented some reforms to its compensation practices, including releasing employee pay data and introducing a mandatory ethics course for all university employees, but has yet to appease some state legislators.

    UC Office of the President spokesman Paul Schwartz said the university shares Yee’s desire for openness and accountability regarding the way business is conducted, and is working to meet its obligation to transparency.

    “”The university has implemented, and continues to implement, a wide range of reforms regarding the approval and public disclosure of compensation actions,”” he said. “”This action goes beyond what is required under existing open meeting laws.””

    However, UC administrators remain concerned about privacy.

    “”Because regents’ discussions of executive compensation are intertwined with discussions about the performance and value of individuals, it is important that regents be able to discuss and evaluate compensation and personal performance in private,”” Schwartz said in an e-mail.

    Currently, the Bagley-Keene Act requires state bodies, including the California State University, to give 10-day public notice prior to all meetings and to open them up to the public.

    SB 190 would extend current policy to include all actions regarding executive compensation.

    The UC system, which holds constitutionally guaranteed autonomy, is not classified or treated as a state agency, and therefore has more independence in its decision-making processes. However, Yee’s measure would remove some of that independence.

    Yee introduced a nearly identical bill in 2006, but it failed to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    In the past, faculty and administrators have been opposed to legislator involvement in university procedure. In a letter to Yee, the University of California expressed strong opposition to his bill, but maintained willingness to work with the lawmaker.

    The bill will be heard and discussed in commitee on April 23.

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