by Max Brantley
UPDATE: The UCA Board of Trustees today voted unanimously to buy out the contract of embattled president Allen Meadors and voted to name general counsel Tom Courtway as interim president.
The Board will pay Meadors through the end of this year with state money (10 months) and then pay him another $337,000 with private money for 18 more months on his contract. He'll stay on university insurance through the end of the fiscal year June 30. His car alllowance will end Oct. 1. The university also will allow Meadors' parents, who've been renting a house on a campus, to remain there for 90 days. Meadors has until Oct. 1 to vacate his university paid housing. Given that his state-paid salary is about $225,000 (he received another $20,000 in private money), the amount he'll be paid the remainder of this fiscal year, plus the additional 18 months of salary make the cash settlement in pay alone worth roughly $525,000. Part of the money to be paid from state money this year is due Meadors for accrued vacation days and sick leave. He also has tenure and so state money will be used to pay for the remainder of this year for him to surrender his tenure right.
Money for the $337,000 is to come from private sources "earmarked" for that purpose and not from unrestricted UCA Foundation money, said Trustee Rush Harding, who explained the deal to the Board. Harding said the school's budget won't be affected "one iota" by today's decision. (Tom Courtway will just have more work to do.)
Meadors resigned immediately in return for the deal.
Board chairman Scott Roussel said afterward it was an "unfortunate situation" that the Board had tried to handle "appropriately" and it was an attempt for the university to move forward.
A central element in the outcome was the president's home, apparently not suitable as a residence for the president's wife despite hundreds of thousands in renovation. You'll find more reporting on that on the jump. Meanwhile, Log Cabin Democrat video shows the place looks pretty good.
The Board voted shortly after 3 p.m. to go into executive session to "discuss the president's contract." The original motion was to convene in private on personnel matters. I objected to that as not sufficiently specific and the motion was amended. Trustees Rush Harding, Scott Roussel and Victor Green are present in Conway for the meeting. Kay Hinkle, Harold Chakales, Bobby Reynolds and Randy Sims are participating by phone.
The Board returned to public session at 4:10 p.m. It quickly heard a motion from Trustee Rush Harding to buy out Meadors' contract.
Meadors came to UCA in February 2009, hailed as a "uniter" in one newspaper account. He was paid $245,000, plus $12,000 to rent a home for his parents from UCA. He's a Van Buren native and UCA grad who'd previously been chancellor of a University of North Carolina campus in Pembroke, N.C. He followed the controversial Lu Hardin, who resigned in a bonus scandal that ultimately led to a federal indictment to which he has pleaded guilty. He awaits sentencing.
A new controversy over renovations and expansion of the UCA president's house triggered today's action. Meadors' troubles over use of the president's house, which had already undergone extensive repairs, was doubly vexed by his wife's desire to live in a new house and growing unhappiness on the campus over cost of the presidential house renovation. Mrs. Meadors has been living for months in North Carolina rather than live in the house. According to one source, she took Meadors' dog along with her. When campus food service contractor Aramark stepped forward with $700,000, it seemed like an answer to the problem, with money to provide new residential housing adjacent to the president's house at no cost to the school. But Meadors' failure to tell the board the gift was contingent on a new contract for Aramark — a fact uncovered by the Democrat-Gazette's Debra Hale-Shelton — enraged trustees. It was only the latest in a long series of reporting by Hale-Shelton on Meadors' expenditures on campus, down to sidewalk repairs. Meadors had become obsessed with the newspaper's dogged attention to details at UCA, an attention he didn't think extended to other university campuses.
The UCA Board decided yesterday to investigate how the misinformation on the Aramark money came about, with a promise of taking sworn testimony. The prospect of that proceeding apparently led to the swift decision by Meadors that it was time to go.
Courtway served as interim the last time UCA got rid of a president, Lu Hardin. If he and the UCA Board are to keep meeting like this, maybe they ought to just make it permanent.
Here's what I wrote earlier in the day:
The University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees has scheduled a telephone meeting at 3 p.m. today and it is expected to move quickly into executive session.
This can only mean the Board will be discussing the employment of President Allen Meadors. It is unlikely that it will be considering a motion to give him a pay raise.
Whether by oversight or intentionally, Meadors managed to let the Board be misled into thinking food service vendor Aramark was offering a $700,000 gift to renovate and expand the president's house out of the goodness of its corporate heart. Instead, Meadors knew, because he had read the formal offer, that it was conditioned on a seven-year extension of a contract expiring in May.
The Board isn't happy. But this was just a new and larger PR disaster after a seemingly interminable run of bad press over Meadors' campus improvement efforts and, particularly, the house project, which has already cost hundreds of thousands.
A key event yesterday was the Board's decision to hold Meadors to his contract to live in the president's house. Meadors' wife, by most accounts, has been the driving force behind a movement to create new private presidential living quarters, even if connected to or near the existing mansion, which would be used for receptions. Meadors wanted to be allowed to live elsewhere for the time being. I was told today that Mrs. Meadors has been living in North Carolina for several months. After the latest foulup, it's hard to imagine a workout on the home front that will produce a resolution satisfactory to Mrs. Meadors any time soon. The Board yesterday pulled back from moving forward with a study of the renovation and expansion after it decided not to take the Aramark money. The Board also decided to put the food service contract out for bids.
These decisions put Meadors in a spot at home just as surely as the drip-drip-drip of pursuit by the Democrat-Gazette has put him and the school in a spot. Board members are anxious to bring an end to all the drama.
I think Meadors is a capable college administrator whose long ties to UCA should have put him in a strong position in Conway. Through a not-deft PR touch and a series of problems large and small, his position today looks very tenuous. We'll be on the line.