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Culver to pick 4 new regents

No plans to request Gartner resignation

James Q. Lynch

The Gazette

December 22, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

  DES MOINES — Gov.-elect Chet Culver doesn’t expect to ask Michael Gartner to step down as president of the Board of Regents despite controversy surrounding the board’s inability to hire a new president at the University of Iowa.

  However, Culver said Thursday that he will nominate four new regents who share his commitment to helping the board fulfill its mission.

  ‘‘ It’s not about personalities,’’ Culver said when asked if he would ask for the resignation of Gartner, who was appointed last year to a six-year term by Gov. Tom Vilsack. ‘‘It’s about progress and allowing our regents and terrific institutions like the University of Iowa and the hospital and clinic there to do their job.’’ Culver said he won’t hesitate to make changes in the board’s leadership if he thinks it is necessary, but did not elaborate.

  Culver said he has been following the presidential search process and is troubled by a lot of what has happened, including several votes of ‘‘no confidence’’ in the regents who have, so far, not found a replacement for David Skorton.

  Skorton left the UI presidency over the summer to become president at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

  ‘‘I understand the concerns and frustrations expressed by the faculty and staff and students and, generally, the people of Iowa,’’ Culver said. ‘‘This is an issue that all Iowans care about.’’

  It’s also a distraction the governor-elect doesn’t need as he begins his duties, said outgoing House Speaker Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City. Rants blames the mess on Vilsack who, he charged, was paying more attention to presidential ambitions than gubernatorial duties.

  ‘‘It’s sort of a nasty little house-warming gift that Vilsack is bequeathing to Culver, but he’s going to have to get involved, he’s going to have to make some decisions,’’ Rants said. In the end, Culver’s ‘‘going to have to go clean up this mess.’’

  Rants doubts Republicans, who will be in the minority in both the House and Senate next year, will get involved in the controversy, which he called a ‘‘perfect storm of Democrats tearing each other apart, trying to sink each other’s boat.’’

  Culver isn’t waiting until he’s sworn in to address the situation. He’s already looking for ‘‘the best qualified, most committed individuals to serve on that critically important governing body at — certainly for the UI — one of the most important periods in the history of the school.’’

  ‘‘I am completely confident that I will be able to assemble four new members and appoint individuals from across the state who will get the job done’’ of hiring a new president at UI. The terms of regents Teresa Wahlert of Waukee, Amir Arbisser of Davenport and Mary Ellen Becker of Oskaloosa will expire in 2007. Spirit Lake regent Tom Bedell resigned last week amid the controversy, but said that he won’t leave the board until Culver is sworn in so the new governor can appoint his replacement.

  In the meantime, Culver said, he will leave decisions about who serves on the board to Vilsack. He noted that Gartner has said he will not resign if Vilsack asks him to step down.

  ‘‘Until (Vilsack) leaves, he needs to make the decision as to who stays and who goes and whose resignation he asks for and who he wants to keep,’’ Culver said. ‘‘So I’m focused on my responsibilities and they lie in the area of picking four people and getting those names to the Senate before March 15.’’
Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this story.