Locals respond to Board of Regents coup
The members of the Montana Board of Regents who lost their leadership positions said they intend to continue their work on the board.
Richard Roehm of Bozeman, who was removed as chair of the board Friday on a 4-3 vote, was not available for comment today. His wife, Carol Roehm, said he intends to serve out the remainder of his seven-year term, through 2005.
"He's not quitting," she said this morning. "He plans to stick it out."
Richard Roehm left Saturday morning for an Alaskan vacation that had been planned for several months, she said.
Lynn Hamilton of Havre, who refused to accept consideration of continuing as vice chair of the board, said she too will finish out her term, which ends in 2006, and continue to serve on the board committees she is on.
"I have a number of projects that I am still working on," she said. "I think I can continue to work on those just as effectively as if I were vice chair of the board, quite frankly."
John Mercer, a former state representative who was appointed to a seven-year term on the board by Gov. Judy Martz in 2001, proposed ending the terms of Roehm and Hamilton as chair and vice chair Friday.
Mercer, Ed Jasmin of Big Fork, Student Regent Christian Hur and Lila Taylor of Busby voted in favor of ending Roehm and Hamilton's terms. Regent Mark Semmens of Great Falls sided with Roehm and Hamilton.
Mercer and Jasmin could not be reached for comment this morning.
Mercer said Friday that he wants the board to move in a new direction, and that is why he wanted to change its leadership. He wants the regents to take a more direct role in addressing the state's economic problems, he said.
Jasmin was elected chair. Hur was elected vice chair after Roehm joined Hamilton in refusing to be considered as vice chair.
Hamilton said today that she didn't want to join the block that voted to end their terms in the new leadership of the board.
"This was, in my mind, an obvious political move," she said. "I felt that it was very poorly handled.
"I wasn't interested in being associated with people that want to take that approach with board actions and governance," Hamilton added.
Dan Geelan, whose term as president of the Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern and whose term as president of the Montana Associated Students ends in July, agreed that the motion and vote were poorly handled.
"The face of higher education has definitely changed. In a nutshell, this was a hostile takeover," he said. "The Board of Regents took an extreme turn to the political side and I think that's just a shame."
He said he thinks Mercer's desire to focus the board on helping the state's economy is not a good focus.
"I think we will see higher education take a significant turn towards economic development and helping the state instead of educating the youth," Geelan said.
Hamilton said that the change in leadership won't actually change the operation of the board very much, because the chair doesn't have a lot of authority over what business will be considered. It is symbolic of a new attitude and a different focus the board may take, however, she said.
Several issues on the agenda of the board meeting in Great Falls last week were voted down by the same block that voted to change the leadership, Hamilton said. They included a statement of board integrity that reflected the actions of corporate boards, such as that of Enron, that have come under fire in recent years, a policy that would have better defined the relationship of the commissioner of higher education with the board, she said.
"That the board is willing to vote down items on its own integrity and fiduciary responsibility is a bad precedent," she said.
The reappointment of the new vice chair in January also came under fire in recent months. Martz reappointed Hur to a third year on the board without consulting the students of the university system for nominations.
The Montana Associated Students filed a lawsuit last month saying that Martz broke the law requiring the governor to consider at least three nominations from MAS for the position.
Chuck Butler, Martz' communications director, said that since Martz was extending Hur's term for an additional year, nominations were not needed. Hur was originally appointed to a two-year term; the law allows the student regent to be appointed for up to four years.
Roehm characterize the move on Friday as a coup. He said Mercer and the others in the block that voted to change the leadership will now engage in more "micromanagement" of the campuses.
The new minority on the board prefers to continue managing the campuses by setting goals and objectives and letting the university system management and administration carry out the policies, he said.
Roehm also predicted an increased politicization of the board.
Mercer has been a critic of board policies since he was appointed in 2001. Hur has usually been his only supporter in the minority of the issues he criticized. In the votes last week, he was joined by new board member Taylor, who was appointed by Martz in January, and Jasmin, who was appointed to the board in 1997.
Geelan said the new makeup of the board with Martz's appointments definitely impacted the vote. Taylor is a former Republican legislator, Mercer was the Republican speaker of the house, and Hur ran for the Legislature.
"I think the governor's office is very well represented on the board," Geelan said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.