Home » Seven Days » The Presidential Parachute—Seven Days—08/03/2011

The Presidential Parachute—Seven Days—08/03/2011

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Shay Totten. Original article: August 3, 2011.


There’s no end to the outrage over University of Vermont President Dan Fogel’s severance package, with fresh criticism coming from Gov. Peter Shumlin and other prominent politicians under Montpelier’s Golden Dome.

“When you treat pay packages and salaries more like corporate America than what we used to know about academic America, then you are making it unaffordable for Vermont kids,” Shumlin said during a live call-in program on Thursday evening, July 28, on Vermont Public Television.

Perhaps Shumlin can use his position as an ex officio member of the board of trustees, and his ability to make appointments to that group, to curb UVM’s appetite for outsize salaries and big buildings.

To that end, House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) suggested lawmakers should pay “closer attention” to UVM’s budget requests during the next legislative session.

In 2009, arguably the worst year of the Great Recession, Fogel not only refused to take a pay cut as many other public officials in Vermont did, but he and the trustees doled out $265,000 in bonuses to top administrators, including himself. In all, UVM’s six-figure execs earned $900,000 in bonuses between 2006 and 2009. At the same time, Fogel laid off dozens of employees, froze the pay of others and cut baseball from UVM’s sports program.

In response, Turner tried to withhold $900,000 in federal stimulus money for the university until UVM reversed course and accepted high-level pay cuts.

Turner’s effort was thwarted as a result of heavy lobbying by fellow lawmakers and UVM supporters. Turner eventually backed off, and chided UVM from the House floor, instead.

From a distance of two years, Turner explained, “I went off and focused on other things, given the assurance that the message had been received. Now this happens, and I’m not so sure.” He believes it might be time to revisit the tradition of having legislators on the UVM board of trustees: Nine of the 25 are elected lawmakers.

“I just don’t know how you can objectively make decisions when you’re also sitting on the board and agreeing to these compensation packages,” said Turner. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we’re laying off people, and UVM is cutting budgets, and yet we approve this fat compensation package and then agree to pay him for 18 months after he decides to leave.”

The legislators who officially weigh in on UVM matters are Reps. Bill Botzow (D-Bennington), Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia), Joan Lenes (D-Shelburne), David Potter (D-North Clarendon), Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) and Donna Sweaney (D-Windsor); Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham); and former Democratic Reps. Christopher Bray and Harry Chen. Bray and Chen are no longer in the House, but their terms on the UVM board have not yet expired.

Gov. Shumlin gets to appoint three people to the board, each for a six-year term. He reappointed Frank Cioffi earlier this year. Cioffi, a “Democrat for Douglas” and then a “Democrat for Dubie,” was first appointed by Gov. Howard Dean — an actual Democrat. The terms of the other two gubernatorial appointees — developer Jeff Davis and banker Mark Young — don’t expire until 2013 and 2015, respectively.

Which ones approved Fogel’s golden parachute on July 20? Chen, Sweaney, Botzow, Branagan, Bray, Cioffi, Davis, Lenes, Potter and Ram. Although White attended the board meeting, she left before the unanimous vote was taken.

The group opted to give Fogel an additional five months of paid leave and benefits, which means he’ll earn roughly $35,400 per month over the next 17 months. That includes a housing allowance to cover the $2000 monthly mortgage payment on his $1.2 million lakeside property in Colchester. And, no, neither UVM nor Vermont taxpayers hold an equity stake in the home, despite all the payments we’ve made toward it over the past nine years.

While Fogel gets $35,400 per month, the trustees are asking some of UVM’s lowest-paid workers to accept a three-year contract that will net them a whopping 1 percent raise over the course of three years.

Maintenance workers represented by United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 267 may also have to contribute more to their health care premiums. If they don’t opt for early retirement by July 1, 2012, their future retirement payouts could be reduced.

The union and UVM negotiators have been at an impasse for about three weeks. “This was probably the worst bargaining session we’ve had, and I’ve been at this for 10 years,” said Carmyn Stanko, president of UE Local 267. Stanko has worked at UVM for 26 years.

“Every Vermonter should be outraged by his severance package,” said Stanko. “That is not what Vermont is about. We don’t get a $20,000 wellness premium, and every single one of us can talk about something in our life that has been difficult. If he’s got a personal issue, why should that be paid for off our backs?”

NOTE: More content, unrelated to UVM, is available at the original article.

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