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Kentucky Attorney General Will Sue Bevin Over U of L Actions

Attorney General Andy Beshear is suing Gov. Matt Bevin for abolishing and then reinstating the boards of trustees of both the University of Louisville and Kentucky Retirement Systems, the state agency that manages the pensions of most state employees.

Bevin appointed new members and changed the number of seats on each panel on Friday. In both cases, Bevin said the moves were made to achieve a “fresh start.”

On Wednesdy, Beshear said Bevin had overstepped his power.

“The opportunity for abuse of power here is evident, and it’s scary,” Beshear said.

Bevin has reorganized several boards in recent months, including the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, Kentucky Racing Commission and the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission. A group of labor unions and injured workers have sued Bevin for his overhaul of the workers’ compensation board, which nominates administrative law judges to oversee workers’ compensation cases.

Beshear said he would seek a temporary restraining order to block Bevin’s changes while the case makes its way through the courts.

“The decisions that are up before the University of Louisville Board of Trustees are too important for them to be made by an illegally constituted board,” Beshear said. They include passage of a university budget — which is likely to include tuition increases — for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. 

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Bevin abolished the school’s board, removing all 17 appointees, and reinstated it with an interim board made up of three trustees. In the coming weeks, Bevin has said he will appoint trustees to a new 10-person board.

Beshear also questioned the timing of Bevin’s overhauls before important meetings.

“What’s unprecedented here is a governor first abolishing two incredibly important governing boards in the same day, and doing it in a pattern not to increase efficiency but to assert control,” Beshear said.

The reorganization of U of L’s board came as trustees were maneuvering to hold a “no-confidence” vote for embattled president James Ramsey.

The reorganization of the Kentucky Retirement Systems board came after Bevin replaced the board chair, Tommy Elliott, who then refused to step down. Bevin sent state troopers to keep Elliott from participating in an official KRS meeting, at which point Elliott sat in the audience.

The KRS board has been criticized for its management of pension assets. The most under-supplied fund managed by KRS has just 17 percent of the money it needs to make future payments.

Previous governors have also reorganized boards and commissions by executive order, but the moves have been much more low-key.

Bevin’s communications director, Jessica Ditto, said Beshear’s lawsuit is “purely political in nature.”

“Sadly, this courtroom circus act is what the people of Kentucky have come to expect from him,” she said. “It is more than a little hypocritical, however, considering that Attorney General Andy Beshear’s own father relied on the exact same statutory authority to reorganize similar organizations in state government more than 100 times in eight years.”

Louisville Attorney Joe Dunman says Bevin would have “pretty incredible power” if he were able to unilaterally replace any board at any time.

“He’d be able to — regardless of what a state statute says about how many members are supposed to be on a board, how you remove members from that board — he could pretty much ignore it,” he said.

Dunman said the fact that previous governors have reorganized boards this way doesn’t necessarily mean Bevin has the authority to do so under the law.

“If it’s the case that past governors broke the law, that doesn’t give future governors a path to do it as well, just because nobody challenged them at the time,” he said.

Robert Hughes, a former U of L trustees chair and member until Friday, slammed Beshear in a statement to WFPL News. And he blamed former Gov. Steve Beshear, who appointed the members Bevin removed, for the turmoil the board faced.

“This was indefensible and will not be solved by the [attorney general] filing a lawsuit,” he said. “The University of Louisville needs to be allowed to refocus its attention on educating students and research not on the former Board of Trustees.”

Copyright 2016 89.3 WFPL News Louisville