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Timeout

July 22, 2005

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators will discuss a policy Friday that would require a “cooling off” period for lawmakers and board members before they could become employees of the university system.

The board will consider mandating that both elected and appointed public officials and members of the university’s governing board wait up to two years before taking a university job, so as to “prevent any perception of a conflict of interest,” according to Joe Moore, a spokesman for the Missouri system. He said that the policy did not grow out of specific complaints, but rather is a preemptive measure. 

The idea started with a bill proposed by Republican State Sen. Jason Crowell. Crowell said one of his general goals as a senator is to get rid of “golden parachutes,” he said. “I noticed that many of our institutions of higher learning are totally dependent upon the votes legislators and curators have over them. In the age of term limits,” which took effect in Missouri in 1994, “I believe it is good policy to take off the table the temptation for trying to curry favor for future employment.” 

Crowell’s bill was not voted on in the legislative session that ended in May, and he said that if the university adequately addresses the issue itself, he will not push the law further. 

His legislation called for a four-year “timeout” for all members of the General Assembly and for curators, with no exceptions. “For a curator, for example, to immediately vote on a salary package of a new administrator, and then possibly be offered a six figure consulting job by the same administrator, that just doesn’t pass the smell test to me,” Crowell said.

The policy the curators will consider is less strict. They will choose between a one- and two-year period -- Crowell is hoping for two -- with a notable exception: The policy would not apply to anyone who was employed by the university for at least five years before becoming a curator or state official. Moore said the exception is reasonable for university employees who leave to do public service. 

Crowell said that he is willing to let the curators consider such measures. “There were no exceptions in my proposal,” he said. “But on those details, I think reasonable minds can disagree. That’s why I wanted to give them the opportunity to look at it.”

The exception would benefit people who follow in the footsteps of former State Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, who was employed by the university from 1985 to 1996, before being elected to the House. When her term ended in January, she returned to work in the university's Office of Service Learning.

Others, like Malaika Horne, who left the Board of Curators in January 2003 and became director of the Leadership Institute in the College of Business Administration at the University of Missouri at St. Louis that September, would have to sit out a while longer. 

Officials at several national organizations said they are not aware of any similar policies in higher education. “It’s not something we’ve had legislators asking about,” said Julie Bell, education program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “It’s not something that has come across my desk.” According to officials at the conference, most states have laws that say legislators cannot take jobs that were created, or given salary hikes, while they were in office.

Twenty-eight states have “revolving-door” provisions, which mandate timeouts of various spans before a former legislator can become a lobbyist, but none of those apply to institutions of higher education. Crowell hopes that the board will adopt a policy today, and that it will be sufficiently strict so as to serve as a model for other states. 

Crowell said that he would “have to look at where the board comes down on a policy” before deciding whether to continue to promote his bill. “It will be acceptable as long as a policy is adopted that would address my core concern, which is, lo and behold, in the age of term limits, there may be legislators and curators that may try to do things to secure future employment.”

 

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