A Rutgers Senate representative to the Board of Governors sent an email on Wednesday to the Board claiming a lack of transparency and disallowance of public comment regarding a resolution approved at their Tuesday meeting for gaining short-term loans up to $300 million.
The Board approved the borrowing of these loans through a revolving credit facility, which provides flexibility in repayments and reborrowing and would be used alongside the University’s commercial paper program to meet cash flow needs, according to the meeting agenda.
The email writer, Troy Shinbrot, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, asked for public disclosure of which banks are involved in the loans, where the $300 million will be spent, how the University plans to repay the debt and what communications led to the Board decision, as this was not covered in the meeting.
In addition, he requested that future Board procedures entail public disclosure of discussions about important matters that are not confidential, such as those of the Board of Governors Finance and Facilities Committee that proposed the resolution.
“This is by any standard a major decision, and I think that information concerning where the funds originate, what they will be spent on, and — importantly — how the funds will be paid back in this difficult financial time should be made public and should be discussed publicly,” Shinbrot said in the letter.
He said the Board’s conduct is an apparent violation of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, which states the right of the public to attend all meetings of public bodies and see each stage of decision making.
University spokesperson Dory Devlin said Rutgers has traditionally maintained a $300 million limit for its commercial paper program alone and that a disruption in the commercial paper markets like the one that occurred last March could risk the University’s ability to issue commercial paper.
“Therefore, this resolution allows us to include an operating line of credit as a guaranteed backup source of liquidity for such a time and reduce the amount that is directly supporting commercial paper, staying within the $300 million total,” she said.
Shinbrot and Charlie Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, each attempted to ask questions about the resolution during the meeting and were ruled out of order. The Daily Targum previously reported that Kratovil asked what financial institutions will be involved as the only speaker who called into the meeting, and the Board ended his time to speak without answering his question, citing a failure to comply with the meeting procedures.
“I took time out of my day, I attended a Board meeting, I waited my turn, I asked the question there,” he said. “I was told that I was wrong and that I need to read the rules. Then, when looking at the rules, there (are) no rules that I violated.”
Devlin said the public comment period during which Kratovil spoke is not meant for questions and answers but for the public to express support, concerns and other comments on specific topics the Board will consider. The Open Public Meetings Act does not require that public participation be allowed at Board meetings, according to the current bylaws.
Kratovil said the Board has continually adjusted its rules to limit the public’s opportunities to participate. Whereas other administrative meetings permit questions and comments on any subjects relevant to the administration, the Board requires the public to sign up to participate at least 24 hours in advance and to speak only on specific agenda items, he said.
Board members in the previous meeting approved a resolution to state a 12 public speaker limit in its bylaws, the Targum reported. The Board’s former meeting procedures, originally a separate document from the bylaws, included this speaker limit, but it was not consistently enforced.
Shinbrot said that as a Rutgers Senate representative for the Board, he takes issue with the lack of room in meetings for public input or discussion.
“It seems certain to me that Board discussions are carried out without any community input or public disclosure, and then once the Board is in agreement, a pro forma rubber-stamping session is carried out,” he said. “This is what I find most disturbing: Maybe the $300 million is a good idea, maybe it isn't, maybe it will all go to organizations that the Board or others have conflicts of interest with, maybe it won't ... Without information, it is impossible to tell one way or the other.”