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McDavis’ raise withheld due to question of legality

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Ohio University decided to withhold President Roderick McDavis and his wife’s recent pay raise after the board of trustees was accused of illegally approving the raise.

The board of trustees was accused in an article from The Columbus Dispatch of approving the raise during a closed meeting, an illegal procedure under Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.

After the accusation, the board decided to hold a formal vote to approve the raise during the next board of trustees meeting at the end of January.

“In order to ensure that all actions by the Ohio University are in compliance with open meeting laws, the Board will discuss and formally vote on a resolution regarding the President’s and First Lady’s salary increases at its next public meeting,” said Secretary to the Board of Trustees Peter Mather in a written statement.

The accusation came after The Columbus Dispatch received a statement from OU spokeswoman Katie Quaranta saying, “The 1 percent was approved by consensus in the executive session for personnel matters that occurred in the morning on Nov. 1.”

The Open Meetings Act requires all public bodies, like the Board of Trustees, to keep all meetings open to the public, with a few exceptions. The Board of Trustees can close meetings, also known as going into executive session, if they need to discuss personnel matters, like hiring or firing employees. But, they cannot take any formal action in a closed meeting, and a vote would be considered formal action, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Sunshine Law Manual.

Despite Quaranta’s previous statement, Mather said no formal vote was taken during the closed meeting last Friday, but that a public vote would be held to ensure there was no confusion.

“Concerns were raised by media about the lack of a public vote for the President’s raise. So, we are happy to allay those concerns through a public vote,” he said in an email.

As for the legality of the proceedings last week, Mather said they were talking to the general counsel from the Office of Legal Affairs, who gives legal advice to the board of trustees.

“If there is a question, it is not a question of transparency but of procedure,” he said.

The Office of Legal Affairs declined to comment due to attorney/client confidentiality privileges.

“Universities are absolutely notorious for violating public records law and violating public meetings laws,” said Karl Idsvoog, author of “Access with Attitude,” a book about Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. “If they want to have a discussion about giving the president a raise, that doesn’t have to be done in secret.”

According to the Open Meetings Act, anyone could bring legal action against the Board of Trustees.

But it would be unlikely to have a standing in court if the board holds a vote during a public meeting to correct the action, local attorney William Biddlestone said.

“You’re chances of getting any kind of award, like attorney fees and such, is limited, especially if they come back to correct the action,” he said.

The 1 percent increase is part of a pay increase for all faculty and staff on campus that was approved by the Board of Trustees in August, at the recommendation of McDavis. If approved, the 1 percent pay increase will be on top of a 2.89 percent pay increase given to McDavis earlier this year, increasing his salary to $431,150.

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