CHEYENNE - University of Wyoming officials now say that "incentive" pay awarded to a top fundraiser was causing ripples even before a split UW Board of Trustees approved the money in January.
UW's nonprofit fundraising arm paid Vice President for University Advancement Ben Blalock $162,500 in raises and incentives in fiscal years 2005 and 2006, university records show. That was on top of his nearly $199,000 annual salary and another $250,000 from the University of Wyoming Foundation to keep Blalock in Laramie while he spearheaded a massive fundraising drive.
But some trustees say they didn't learn about the 2005-06 payments until interim President Tom Buchanan alerted them in January - a contention that some dispute.
Moreover, it's now clear that former UW President Philip Dubois and other university officials disagreed on who was authorized to approve Blalock's pay.
"There obviously was a difference in interpretation in what the president thought he had the authority to do," said Dr. Howard Willson, a trustee from Thermopolis.
Trustees James Trosper of Fort Washakie, Warren A. Lauer of Laramie and Willson all said they knew nothing about the 2005-06 payments to Blalock until the January meeting.
Trosper and Willson voted against the deal, in part because they said they didn't like being left out of the loop.
But trustee Dr. Thomas Spicer of Rock Springs said it was common practice for Dubois to negotiate deals with university officers and then briefly present the details to the board in closed meetings, which he said was done in this case.
"Unless someone had some objection, it was a 20-second meeting," Spicer said.
If trustees don't remember the particular discussion, it's because they forgot or were absent from the meeting, said Spicer, adding that he has no recollection of the salary discussions himself.
"But I don't have any doubt in my mind that they were discussed at some point," Spicer said.
Trustees only started keeping record of closed-session meetings last year, so there is no written proof that the meeting took place.
In a Wednesday telephone interview, Dubois said that while the board must sign off on initial compensation packages, the president has full power to negotiate subsequent deals.
"I didn't need approval from the board, but I did report to the board," said Dubois, who left UW in 2005 after eight years to become chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
"The board is entitled to vote on anything it wants, but the reality was that all along the board had been consulted on these compensation arrangements, and it should not have been a surprise to anyone around at the time," he said. "The fact that some members of the current board weren't around, or don't remember it occurred, doesn't mean it didn't occur."
Dubois said it was important to use UW Foundation money to raise Blalock's salary so he wasn't lured away by higher-paying jobs at other institutions.
After crunching numbers on what it would take to keep Blalock, Dubois said he approached the UW Foundation board and the trustees.
"It would be colossally foolish on my part to do this without sharing it with my board," Dubois said, but he reiterated that he had the authority to approve the incentive payments without the board's approval.
That contradicts a statement earlier this week from UW Government Community and Legal Affairs Vice President Rick Miller.
Miller said university rules require that the trustees approve all compensation for UW officers.
And it's clear that some trustees, including Lauer and others, would prefer that the trustees have a hand in the salary talks.
"I do believe that it is a duty of the board of trustees to be aware of what its employees of the University of Wyoming are being paid," Lauer said.
Spicer said the trustees have agreed to take charge of salary approval.
"We had a good conversation and decided that the way it was done in the past probably needs to be changed," he said.
Dubois said any assertion that the incentive pay for Blalock was handled under the table is simply false.
"It may be good practice today to say that in the event of any extraordinary arrangement, we bring it into public session and vote on it. It may be good practice today, but it wasn't the practice at the time," the former president said. "What was done was not inconsistent with how other vice president salary increases were handled, but in this case we relied on foundation funds."
Dubois himself received a four-year, $525,000 incentive deal to help lead the "Campaign of Distinction" fund drive that generated $204 million for the university. He said all of that money was approved long in advance and was intended to keep him on board for the duration of the campaign.
"It was not a bonus in any sense of the word," Dubois said.
State Editor Chad Baldwin contributed to this report.
Reach Star-Tribune capital bureau reporter Jared Miller at (307) 632-1244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.