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Public Access Counselor: IU trustees violated Open Door Law with McRobbie contract

Former IU President Michael McRobbie.
Former IU President Michael McRobbie.

The IU Board of Trustees violated the state’s Open Door Law by approving a $582,000 contract for former President Michael McRobbie during an executive session, according to an opinion from Indiana’s public access counselor.

Public Access Counselor Luke Britt wrote Monday that the trustees improperly delegated authority to former board chair Dr. Michael Mirro to negotiate a contract with McRobbie, and that the contract should have been authorized during a public meeting. Both actions were approved during executive sessions last year in violation of the state’s Open Door Law.

In March 2021, Mirro negotiated an extension to McRobbie’s contract as the university searched for a new president. If IU were unable to find a new president by the time of McRobbie’s retirement in June, he would be paid $582,722 for six months of additional time as president.

The board named Pamela Whitten IU’s president in April 2021, but the trustees decided to honor the contract with McRobbie because he had postponed plans in case he was needed. The board paid him the agreed-upon amount as “consulting services.”

IU law professor Steve Sanders filed a complaint with the Office of the Public Access Counselor in October, saying the $582,000 contract was not discussed or voted on in a public meeting and, therefore, violated Indiana’s Open Door Law. Britt agreed with Sanders.

READ MORE: Law school prof. questions presidential search process, payment to McRobbie

“A contract extension or consulting agreement worth over $500,000 to a single employee is undoubtedly an action item that would need authorization via final action and warrant discussion in an open meeting,” Britt wrote.

In an emailed statement, IU Spokesperson Chuck Carney said the university took care of the issue “out of an abundance of caution” during the trustees’ Dec. 3 meeting in Kokomo.

“We consider this matter closed,” Carney wrote.

Sanders said he was pleased with the opinion but was concerned that the trustees’ actions were part of pattern of behavior by the board of doing business behind closed doors.

“Everything's always very neat – everything's done unanimously (at board meetings),” Sanders said. “There's no discussion, no disagreement. That suggests that there’s a lot of discussion and analysis and maybe disagreement being ironed out behind the scenes.”

Mitch Legan