FAU Tries Again With Volnick, and Home Rule Still Under Attack

FAU Tries Again With Volnick, and Home Rule Still Under Attack

At today’s meeting, Florida Atlantic University trustees will try again to nalize the contract extension for Interim President Stacy Volnick.

The do-over from November became necessary when the Board of Governors, which supervises the state university system, failed to approve the deal at its Jan. 24 meeting. Board members concluded that FAU had not provided documents about the deal to all trustees in advance. Two trustees sent their objections to the board.

The issue was technical, and some board members suggested that they could “cure” the problem at that meeting. But the majority declined. FAU then delayed the trustees’ meeting by more than a week, to ensure the necessary seven days’ notice and avoid a repeat glitch.

Terminology was part of the problem. Board members kept referring to a “contract.” Brad Levine, who chairs the trustees, called it “an agreement.” The document before the trustees is called an “employment agreement.”

Nothing about the agreement is di erent from what the Board of Governors failed to ratify. It raises Volnick’s salary from $500,000 to $525,000, based on the evaluation of Exceptional she received in November. It lasts through the end of the year or until FAU gets a new president.

Nothing in the agreement prevents Volnick from applying for the permanent job. When she became the interim president on Jan. 1 of last year, Volnick said she would not apply. But things have changed dramatically.

After the rst search yielded three quali ed candidates, none of whom was Gov. DeSantis’ rst choice, University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues suspended the search. He asked the system’s inspector general to investigate alleged violations. The report concluded that violations had occurred and criticized Levine.

In December, the Board of Governors voided the search and ordered a new one. It can’t start, however, until the board approves changes to policies that FAU supposedly violated. At that Jan. 24 meeting, the board also approved a non-binding voice of no con dence in Levine.

The board could approve those changes at its Feb. 21 meeting. If not, the next meeting is March 26. It took the last search committee six months to arrive at those nalists. Meanwhile, president is just one of several top jobs at FAU that interims hold, preventing any serious long-range planning.

Thus continues the push-pull between FAU and the state, with politics driving it. Trustee Vice Chair Barbara Feingold is Levine’s chief critic and has bragged about her connections to the governor. The trustees changed policy so that Feingold would not automatically become chair if Levine resigned or the governor removed him.

The chair appoints the search committee. Board of Governors criticized Levine for naming himself to chair the committee.

Though Volnick’s agreement/contract is the main item on the agenda, Levine himself could become a point of discussion. The trustees can’t force him from the board, but they could vote to elect a new chair.

There also could be added discussion about Volnick. There has not been majority sentiment among the trustees to recommend her for the permanent job without a search—as the Faculty Senate proposed—but there appears to be no opposition to her applying. Volnick has worked at FAU since 1991.

I’ll have more after the meeting.

Home rule challenges continue

It wouldn’t be a normal year in the Florida Legislature without Tallahassee trying to tell local governments how they should operate. As usual, the Legislature is debating several more encroachments onto the principle of home rule. Today’s example concerns taxes.

Currently, cities and counties can raise the property tax rate with a simple majority vote. That’s three members of the Boca Raton City Council and three Delray Beach city commissioners. Under House Bill 1195, however, that standard would rise to a supermajority of four.

One could imagine this change not posing any practical problem. In recent years, Boca Raton and Delray Beach have approved microscopic increases and decreases to their tax rates —one for operating expenses, one for debt—to make the overall rate stay the same or drop slightly. It’s rare that any council or commissioner votes against the rate and the budget.

Under the change, though, a council or commission minority could hold up approval if two members wanted to grandstand on the issue. If one seat was vacant, a single elected o      cial could do so.

HB 1195 has passed two committees. The Senate version has passed one. The analysis provides no justi cation for the bill, although supporters have noted that it requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes. But that requirement doesn’t mean much; the only tax the Legislature might raise is the sales tax—and that hasn’t come up for a vote in decades.

More likely, the real reason is that the Legislature in Tallahassee never stops believing that it knows better than government closest to the people.

Property tax vs. consumption tax

Speaking of property taxes, the Legislature may authorize a state agency to study the idea of eliminating them in Florida and replacing them with a tax on consumption.

Rep. Ryan Chamberlain, the bill’s sponsor, argued that because of the property tax, Floridians don’t really own their home—even if the mortgage is paid o . It’s a fairly bizarre claim—Chamberlain compared the tax to slavery—but right-leaning think tanks have pushed this idea for many years. No state has enacted it.

Economists have pointed out that consumption taxes—like the sales tax—fall heavier on less-a              uent families that spend more of their income on goods. If the Legislature and Gov. DeSantis agree, the O            ce of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) would conduct the study and report back a year from now.