The Democrat-Gazette continues to pursue the fine print of the early payment of $300,000 to UCA President Lu Hardin as a result of a secret vote by the Board of Trustees.

The article acknowledges what I told you two days ago. This is not private money. It comes, as mentioned here yesterday, from a Board of Trustees discretionary fund made up of “excess” profits from campus bookstore and food operations and some unspecified private money. Just exactly what is an excess profit? Is it money that otherwise could be used to support students? Is it money that could be returned to students in the form of lower prices on books and burgers? I bet the ancillary profits count for a good deal more in this fund than private contributions.

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This whole situation needs a disinterested legal analysis.

UCA officials are throwing around the notion that this money is somehow not public money. I don’t think that will stand legal analysis. Once money, of any sort, enters the accounts of a public institution, it is public money and its use is fully disclosable and governed by laws of the state. The Board of Trustees is not a private entity; it is appointed by the governor to oversee a public institution. Even if it has voted itself the power to annex some of campus money for discretionary spending, this does not exempt it from the law.

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The article raises the UCA defense that, because the money is from campus-generated money and is not from state general revenue, the spending of the money does not count under the state statute that caps public employee compensation at a figure 25 percent higher than the legislatively appropriated maximum. Guess what? Nothing a college spends is wholly from general revenue. Ever heard of student tuition? I don’t accept this legal analysis, but I don’t have the statutes before me.

Think about the can of worms that is opened if a university board has the power to designate non-general-revenue money for unfettered discretionary spending? The mind boggles.

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(You ask about UA and the enormous sums paid coaches in excess of line-item maximums? The UA has done a work-around through the private Razorback Foundation. It is not controlled by the Board of Trustees. Its money isn’t directed to it by a Board of Trustees vote. Those are just two differences with the UCA Board’s sequestering of what I believe is undeniably public money, if not general revenue, for its own, sometimes secretive, uses, including a payment of money to the president in one year well in excess of what otherwise would be the statutory maximum.)

No wonder UCA Trustee Rush Harding, the key facilitator in all this, wouldn’t return my call about this yesterday.

I’m practicing law without a license, of course. The UCA folks are practicing it only to the extent they can cover the tracks of an embarrassing maneuver. (Even they concede a “gray” area about whether the bookstore fund is public money.) This needs a firm and thorough legal analysis, not only because of this particular expenditure but for future expenditures by all similarly situated institutions.

If the law does allow a public governing body to skirt statutory salary caps by tapping money generated by a public institution but not deriving from “general revenue,” then the law needs revisiting.

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Somebody should request an attorney general’s opinion.

This would, inevitably, cause a few politically tinged comments. Dustin McDaniel will be running for governor in 2014 as a Democrat. Lu Hardin has talked to Republicans about such a possibility, too.

UPDATE: Trustee Rush Harding called me this morning. He said he’d just missed my call yesterday, which came about the time he departed for a business trip to Baton Rouge. He offers some interesting comments on the jump, including details of that closed meeting in May.