Saturday, June 10, 2017

Don't ask; he'll tell

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Most of the 26 regents who run the University of California are chosen in a process involving a ghostly, unnamed committee of 12 people who never meet, produce no public record of their actions, and publish no list of members. Some don’t even know who the other members are.

That’s how it’s been for more than four decades. And that’s how it was this month when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed four new regents, including Lark Park, his own policy adviser, and Peter Guber, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors.

It isn’t supposed to be that way.

“In the selection of the regents,” says the California Constitution, “the governor shall consult an advisory committee” of 12 people: six members of the public, two elected officials (the Assembly speaker and state Senate president), a UC student, a faculty member, an alumnus and the regents chair. Some committee members are appointed by the governor, others by members of the Legislature, and others by faculty and students.

California voters approved the system in 1974 as part of several constitutional changes intended to make the UC regents more responsive to the public. The governing board of the $30 billion university oversees 10 campuses with 238,000 students, five hospitals and three national laboratories.
But six committee members reached by The Chronicle said they are never consulted in the selection of regents — only told shortly before the announcement that choices have been made.

“Typically, I get a heads-up with a phone call that appointments will be happening,” said Rishi Kumar, a Saratoga city councilman and public member of the volunteer advisory committee. “We receive an email with the profiles of the folks that are going to be appointed.”

Whether the governor is breaking the law would be up to a judge, said Jessica Levinson, a law professor and government ethics expert at Loyola Law School.

“But it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t meet our expectation,” she said. “Our general expectation of ‘consult’ is that it’s distinct from ‘informing.’ You wouldn’t say, ‘I’m consulting this person by leaving a note on their door.’”

The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The office did provide the current list of committee members, but not previous lists as requested.

Terms on the advisory committee range from one to four years, the Constitution says. Former state Sen. Gary Hart doesn’t recall how long he has served on it, but said he was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis. Davis left office in 2003.

“The committee hasn’t met for over a decade and does no work,” Hart said. But Brown’s office duly phoned the former senator to let him know of the impending appointments. “I was given a brief biographical description of each and was certainly free to express an opinion on his nominees.” Hart said he did not weigh in, however, because he wasn’t familiar with the names.

It’s unclear whether the committee has ever met.

“I had no recollection of the existence of the committee in my 14 years on the Board of Regents,” said Bill Bagley, who was named a regent by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1988 and served in the state Assembly when voters approved the advisory committee.

Bagley, an expert on government ethics for whom California’s Bagley-Keene open records and open meetings law was named, said the committee should have at least a week to opine on the governor’s preferred regent candidates.

The governor appoints 18 of the 26 voting regents, who serve 12-year terms. The others include one student and seven “ex-officio” regents who serve automatically because of their job. Brown, himself an ex-officio regent, has appointed eight regents since taking office in 2011 — half of them this month. Appointees have a year to be confirmed by the Senate or lose their seat.

Kumar said he learned the names of the four most recent appointees on June 2, the same day the governor announced them. Asked why the governor’s office notified him at all, Kumar said:

“Because I am on the selection committee.”

The duties of committee members are often unclear — even to the members themselves.

Cynthia So Schroeder is not only on the advisory committee but holds one of two alumni positions on UC’s Board of Regents.

“I think that as an alumni regent, I’m notified (of regents appointees), but I’m not part of the search,” she said, although nothing in the Constitution says that anyone on the committee is excluded from helping the governor select regents.

Another committee member who asked not to be identified said: “I don’t even know who is on the committee.”

Besides creating the committee, voters in 1974 also changed the state Constitution to say the regents should be “broadly reflective of the economic, cultural, and social diversity of the state, including ethnic minorities and women.”

...“We’d be interested in reviving” the committee’s work, said one of its members, James Chalfant, chairman of UC’s Academic Senate.

“We were not consulted at all,” said Chalfant who, like the others, received a voice mail from the governor’s office the same day the new regents appointees were announced. “It’s very disappointing.”

Nanette Asimov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

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