Four members of Wayne State’s Board of Governors are suing President M. Roy Wilson and four other board members because of actions taken at a June 21 meeting — where only half of the board was present.
Board members Michael Busuito, Sandra Hughes O’Brien, Dana Thompson and Anil Kumar are suing those who were present at the June 21 meeting — which include Board Chair Kim Trent, Marilyn Kelly, Mark Gaffney and Bryan Barnhill.
The lawsuit was filed in Ingham County Court on June 27 and calls to invalidate any decisions made at the meeting — including an increase in tuition and subleasing of a building for WSU pediatrics.
“Plaintiffs and the Governor Defendants have, for some time, been in disagreement on many core matters affecting the fiscal health, well-being, and the future of WSU,” the lawsuit states.
During the June 21 meeting, WSU Vice President and General Counsel Louis Lessem said it was acceptable for the meeting to continue without the four board members present. Lessem said the president is an ex-officio member of the board and counted toward a quorum. Wilson didn’t vote on any issues during the meeting.
“The Revised Agenda included a hastily added, last minute item of enormous importance,” the lawsuit states.
This important item is the leasing and possible purchasing of a building located on 400 Mack Avenue. The $14 million building is proposed to be used as office and space for WSU pediatricians, according to The Detroit News.
“Plaintiffs felt the proposed purchase price was too high and the Board had not been provided with any market analysis or comparison data,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit said this property was first placed on the agenda at the April 5 executive meeting, where plaintiffs voted against the leasing of the building. Barnhill, Trent, Kelly, Gaffney and Wilson continued to show support for the sublease after the April 5 meeting. It was proposed after the April meeting and was rejected again by the plaintiffs.
The suit states the defendant board members knew Kumar would be out of the country on a family vacation — planned before he became a BOG member.
“The Governor Defendants and Wilson devised a clever plan: they hastily arranged to add, at the last minute, a sublease of 400 Mack Avenue to the executive committee agenda for June 21, 2019.”
According to the lawsuit, Wilson released an agenda for the executive meeting 36 hours prior to June 21. A joint statement released by O’Brien, Kumar, Thompson and Busuito said the item made it on the agenda without consultation from Trent or Wilson, which contradicted Wilson and Trent’s previous agreement to be more transparent with board members.
Trent said the board members knew about the proposed lease for the building since May 20, and no board members expressed concern about this proposal at the time. She said the item was added to the June 21 agenda as soon as financial details were finalized.
Ted Montgomery, associate director for WSU’s marketing and communications, said WSU was first advised of the lawsuit’s existence late Wednesday night, but have not received a copy of the lawsuit.
“We are disappointed that certain members of the governing board felt it necessary to sue their colleagues and the President (sic), and are confident that actions taken at the June 21, 2019 Board of Governors meeting were appropriate and entirely within the scope of the law,” Montgomery said in a statement.
Trent said it’s unfortunate that it has come to this, and she wishes for the board to move on and work for the better of the university.
“We have eight board members and four showed up (on June 21) and four decided not to come,” she said. “And of the four who didn’t show up, three of the four didn’t let us know until the day before the meeting and it’s fairly obvious because they knew the vote wasn’t going to go their way.”
The joint statement from Busuito, Thompson, Hughes O’Brien and Kumar said “These actions are consistent with the administration's previous lack of transparency, forcing us to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the University (sic) in order to receive and review documents relating to University and our work as Governors (sic).”
At a March 20 meeting, Thompson raised concern about Wilson withholding information about David Hefner’s contract from the board. Hefner is vice president of health affairs at the school of medicine until July 31 — when his contract expires.
“The overarching concern in this situation is that Roy wants to decide when and how he thinks we should get information,” Thompson said. “Imagine a president of a university forcing his board members to FOIA information they are legally obliged to receive about the university?”
Thompson called for Wilson’s resignation during the March 20 meeting, and Wilson released a statement March 25 stating he will not step down from his position.
This story is ongoing and will be updated when more details become available.
Susana Hernandez is managing editor of The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Slone Terranella is the editor-in-chief of The South End. She can be reached at EditorinChiefTSE@gmail.com