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Chair Of Higher Education Panel Fears Governor's Motives

FRANKFORT, KY -- Gov. Steve Beshear's demand for a new search to select a leader for Kentucky's higher education system went unanswered Friday, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Saturday edition.

John Turner, chairman of the state Council on Postsecondary Education, said it would be "premature" to say how the council will react to Beshear.

"The first step is for me to get in and see the governor and see exactly what his goals are," Turner said.

Beshear made his order Thursday after Attorney General Jack Conway stated that the council's recent hiring of Lexington lawyer Brad Cowgill was illegal, reports the Herald-Leader.

Although Beshear and Turner said Friday they hope to settle the dispute amicably, Turner speculated in an April 21 letter to council members that the governor might have political motives for questioning Cowgill's hiring.

"I'm wondering if it's possible that the real focus of the governor's attention is us, not Brad," he wrote, noting that a move by Beshear to dissolve the council "would hasten the point (by a couple of years) when the council has mainly people appointed by Governor Beshear."

Cowgill, who was budget director for former Gov. Ernie Fletcher before becoming the council's interim president in September, was hired on a permanent basis earlier this month, the newspaper reports.

The attorney general's non-binding opinion says the council was obligated by law to conduct a national search before hiring a president.

Turner said in the letter that he did not know what the attorney general's opinion would say, "but I'd speculate its (sic) more likely than not that he will agree with the governor's statements, reports the newspaper.

"I think the governor would be pretty confident of the outcome in advance of the AG opinion, otherwise there is little benefit making the request."

He said Beshear or Conway could file a lawsuit in court and get a binding decision.

"This would give the council a chance to present our view in court," Turner said, but "a downside of this idea is that it could eat up some time."

Another option for Beshear, Turner said, is to ask for resignations of the council members, the Herald-Leader reports.

"If we resigned, this allows the governor to appoint a new collection of council members who could choose a permanent president any way they want," Turner said. "Any action on the council's part along this line would be, in my judgment, a total surrender of our independence."

Beshear also "could just try to just dissolve the council altogether," Turner said.

"I don't know anything about whether the governor has the legal authority to do this," Turner said. "I'd say that kind of action would clearly affect the interests of the General Assembly because the legislature established the council as an independent agency in order to give it some insulation from gubernatorial politics."

Turner said he is proud that the council "has not operated in a partisan fashion."

The "best course" for the council, Turner said, "is to keep doing the best work we can."

Beshear and Cowgill sat onstage next to one another during Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock's inauguration Friday, but the governor said the two didn't have an opportunity to discuss the council's presidency, reports the Herald-Leader.

Beshear said he welcomes a conversation to settle the issue.

CPE coordinates the state's eight public universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Among other things, it approves tuition rates, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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