Contrary to a Courier-Journal report, Jim Ramsey was not going to be cut loose from the University of Louisville Foundation at a specially-called meeting of the group’s Executive Committee on Monday. Nor was his assistant Kathleen Smith going to be fired.
The meeting, which was canceled, had been scheduled quickly over the weekend following a missive from the J. Graham Brown Foundation on Friday demanding an audit and warning that it could withhold donations from the ULF without more transparency.
“Actually the main purpose of the meeting was to issue a Request for Proposal for a full audit as soon as possible and get the process started,” said Hughes. “We have the utmost respect for the Brown Foundation and what it has done for UofL.”
Ramsey’s future was to be discussed, based on preliminary discussions between Bob Hughes, ULF Chairman; Larry Benz, Chairman of the “old” UofL board, and Craig Greenberg, another UofL board member. “We were going to debate accepting Jim Ramsey’s resignation but to be available as a resource until June 30 of next year,” said Hughes. “They indicated they were in agreement and thanked me for taking the initiative.”
Hughes said that ULF Executive Committee members Joyce Hagen, Junior Bridgeman and Frank Weisberg were also supportive, adding that Neville Pinto, acting president of the University and the ULF, asked for some time to think about the arrangement. “The future of Kathleen Smith was never on the agenda,” he noted.
He explained that the committee would discuss the details of any arrangement with Ramsey and would submit the plan to the full Foundation board in mid-September.
Hughes, a physician who lives in Murray, said he was on his way to Louisville when he received an e-mail on his cell phone from Benz saying that only the full board could terminate an officer and that only the University could select an audit firm and manage its work (despite the fact that the ULF is a private foundation).
He discussed the message with ULF attorney David Saffer who recommended that the Executive Committee meeting be cancelled. “Up until that point, Mr. Benz had indicated he was on board with everything,” said Hughes. “Something changed, or someone changed his mind for him.”
He also received a similar e-mail from Pinto expressing alarm over the quickly-scheduled meeting because of transparency concerns and opposing any “settlement payment” from the Foundation.
Hughes said there is a group on the “old” board that is apparently opposed to allowing Jim Ramsey to leave the University gracefully. “I had almost unanimous support from all involved parties for an arrangement for Jim to resign but keep him as a resource until June 30,” he said.
“Everything now appears to be an attempt to make the Foundation look as bad as the Trustees look over the past year and, then in that chaos, you’ve got all kinds of people scrambling for position, keeping their jobs or their prestige.
“We do not want to appear to be ill-tempered and mean-spirited as we’re recruiting people in leadership positions going forward,” he said. “How can you work with people when you have an agreement with one day and the next day they say, ‘I didn’t agree to that’ or ‘That’s not what I said.’
“In some ways, this is starting to look very personal between some members of the ‘old’ board, wanting to diminish Dr. Ramsey’s role in the success of the University and to demean him personally. Why would they not take that deal of having Jim Ramsey resign and stay as a resource to allow an orderly transition?”
As for another CJ report that the Foundation had to fire Ramsey if he left the Presidency of the University, Hughes said that decision was entirely up to the Foundation board. “The plan, in this case, was to get a new start for all the stakeholders and give the University a sense of normality.”
* * *
The Brown Foundation’s missive followed a statement by Benz that he had received no response to an open records request from the ULF regarding a $38 million loan from the University to the ULF.
“Actually Mr. Benz’ request was for every single ULF document dating back to 2010,” said Hughes. “That’s every single transaction, well over one million pages of documents and receipts. They don’t have the manpower to do that, certainly not within a few weeks’ time.”
The Benz request, of course, was in addition to all the materials being provided to the State Auditor following a request from Steve Wilson, a former UofL board member.