The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees has a two-day retreat at Petit Jean this week and that meeting includes a two-item agenda Thursday: approval of the $160 million expansion of Razorback Stadium and an executive session, reportedly on several pay increases, including for the football staff at UA.
The board went at this project backwards. It approved a construction manager before it approved the project itself.
The meeting Thursday should include a discussion of a lengthy list of questions posed by former Sen. David Pryor, a trustee, who opposes the project. To date, he’s been the only member of the board to express opposition. He’s not expected to stand down. Some observers speculate he might draw at least some limited sympathy from others on the board. Trustee John Goodson, a lawyer and lobbyist, who apparently considers himself the de facto leader of the board though Searcy banker Reynie Rutledge is the chair, has been working behind the scenes in hopes of lining up unanimous support for the project.
Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz has recommended approval of the project, the work of Athletic Director Jeff Long, and so has Donald Bobbitt, the UA System president.
Said Bobbitt’s letter:
This project is about the fans of Razorback football. The guiding force behind the project design and scope is the development of seating types and amenities that fans are asking for, as well as updating areas of the stadium that have not been touched since the last major stadium project more than 15 years ago. The experience of Arkansas fans is critical to keep patrons coming to games and to maintaining the environemnt needed for a true home field advantage. In addition, updtes will include improved flow of fans into and through the stadium, as well as enhancing their safety within the stadium.
The document linked above includes specifics on the stadium expansion (new seats and elevators and a significant expansion of administrative offices) and the projected cost, $120 million to come from a bond issue supported by athletic revenue, the rest from existing reserves or new contributions. The athletic department takes in more than $90 million a year now — with major revenue from premium payments on seats that flow to the Razorback Foundation and from the SEC TV contract.
Timing perhaps isn’t perfect. The athletic department is asking to spend $160 million days after a report that the Razorback Foundation paid $3.5 million to Frank Broyles, 91, the retired athletic director, for “speaking engagements” in the year after he announced his retirement from active work for UA. It comes, too, as news continues of state budgeting that has provided no increased money for higher education (tuition has increased as a consequence) and news of continuing deficits at UAMS.
It comes, too, on a day when the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the crumbling senior walk on the Fayetteville campus in which all graduates’ names are inscribed. The campus can’t repair the earliest portion of the walk without $500,000 in fund-raising. But it (through football revenue) can pay Frank Broyles $3.5 million; spend $160 million on the football stadium, and also recommended pay raises to the Board for football coaches. They could fix the sidewalk for what they pay a line coach.
CLARIFICATION: A UA spokesman says the campus has $400,000 to $500,000 for senior walk repairs, but groups have been talking about raising additional funds for a more elaborate fix. A long-term fix of the whole walk would require a good bit more money.
ALSO: UA officials are so far refusing to reveal what pay increases are being recommended for consideration in the closed board meeting — by name, position or amount. Some, if not all, may be pay increases paid with private money through the Razorback Foundation or other sources, but I’d argue that recommendations of pay arrangements proposed by public employees working on public time for consideration by a public board should be a matter of public record. The UA, which has many ideas about how secrecy may be carved out for its affairs, apparently sees it differently.
It might be just embarrassment. Word is that a “strength” coach — somebody who oversees weightlifting and such — is going to get a raise up to a level near the chancellor’s base pay.
PS: Also seeking precise details on commitments on the 134 new suites. The UA statement to board says it has $20 million in commitments, but it’s unclear if that’s $20 million upfront or the total of commitments for what is a reportedly $3 million commitment per suite payable at $300,000 a year. I’ve asked UA about this as well. Will update when and if answers arrive.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The Fayetteville campus, in response to my FOI request for pay raises it has recommended for campus employees says the Board, not it, is the trustee of Board records and refuses to provide the information. There is a word in the poultry industry that applies to this, the latest in a long series of UAF techniques to defy requests for public information. Next they’ll claim it’s proprietary and would be damaging to release it.