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Nominee For UK Board Chairman Criticized For Ties To Fletcher

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The nomination of a construction company executive to lead the University of Kentucky's Board of Trustees has sparked controversy among some members because of his close political ties to Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

The panel's nominating committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of Stephen Branscum, 52, of Russell Springs to be the board's next chairman. However, three trustees questioned whether he was the right choice - citing his lucrative donations and other ties to Fletcher.

"I'm concerned about the relative strength of the candidates here, especially in regard to the chair," said Ernie Yanarella, a faculty trustee. The trustees need someone better equipped to be the "public face of the board," Yanarella said.

Branscum downplayed the controversy in a phone interview. "I respect everybody's opinion," he said.

Branscum lobbied Fletcher to get $15 million in state bonds to finance a $27.5 million basketball practice facility in 2005. Some trustees complained the bonds came at the expense of another project for a student health facility.

Fletcher and Branscum also were formerly involved in a joint real estate venture, and during the hiring investigation of the administration, Branscum was called to testify before the grand jury. No indictments were brought against him.

Besides Yanarella, faculty trustee Jeff Dembo and staff trustee Russ Williams have also signaled opposition to the choice. They attended the meeting, although none are on the nominating committee.

Another concern from some board members was over whether it was time to have a female chairman. The panel nominated trustees Mira Ball of Lexington for vice chairwoman and Pam May of Pikeville, the current board secretary, for re-election.

Ball and her husband, Don, the owners of Ball Homes - also have contributed to Fletcher's campaigns.

The full board will vote on the nominations at its meeting Tuesday.

Dembo had pushed for Ball to serve as chair and said it would "hypocritical" to nominate another man.

Frank Shoop of Georgetown, chairman of the nominating committee, said he was pleased with the choices. He declined to release the vote totals but said each won handily.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,
http://www.kentucky.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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