Pay deal for University of Iowa president's husband wasn't in writing, foundation officials say

Former board chairman Gartner says he didn't authorize foundation's deal

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A University of Iowa Foundation board member says a grudge against the UI may be causing a former state Board of Regents leader to have “selective memory” about a controversial pay deal for the UI president’s husband.

“When people tear at it (the UI’s reputation) for their own reasons, that’s pretty bothersome,” said Bob Verhille, a Cedar Rapids businessman and vice chairman of the UI Foundation, the fundraising arm of the university.

Verhille and foundation President Lynette Marshall met with The Gazette Editorial Board on Wednesday, spending about 30 minutes talking about a weeks-long hubbub over the $50,000 fundraising salary the foundation pays to Ken Mason, husband of UI President Sally Mason.

The regents negotiated the contract with Sally Mason when they hired her in 2007 but failed to put it in writing, Verhille said. The foundation has come under fire for paying the salary, as former regents President Michael Gartner and others have said they don’t recall making the arrangement.

“Some people have a vendetta for some reason,” Verhille said. “Either you drive them off or they get terminated.”

When asked whether he was referring to Gartner, Verhille said: “He would probably be a name that would come to mind.”

Gartner, who served as regents president from 2005 to 2008 and stepped down from the board in 2011, told The Gazette on Wednesday that he bears no grudge against the UI.

“I have no vendetta against the university whatsoever,” said Gartner, of Des Moines.

The Iowa Cubs owner and journalist said he’s given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the UI and thinks many programs are world class. But Gartner has also jabbed the university on issues that include its handling of a 2007 sexual assault and its refusal to sell a Jackson Pollock painting valued at $140 million.

“I’m a supporter, but I’m also a critic,” Gartner said.

Gartner said he did not authorize the foundation to pay Ken Mason for fundraising.

“I would never have made a deal that didn’t have paperwork,” he said.

UI Foundation leaders said interim UI President Gary Fethke approached them about the $50,000 deal and the foundation agreed to the arrangement. Ken Mason, who is also paid for teaching biology courses at the UI, performs many fundraising duties including meeting with donors and co-hosting events, Marshall said.

“We counted up 200 events a year in their residence that they sponsored,” Marshall said.

Marshall said she wishes the arrangement had been documented in a formal contract.

“In retrospect, I think everyone — including Ken and Sally — wish it had been put in writing,” she said.

The foundation has released dozens of documents to the Des Moines Register, which originally published the story about Ken Mason’s fundraising salary. The foundation, a non-profit agency of 195 employees, is a private entity but will comply with Iowa’s open records law because of its close association with the public university, Marshall said.

“We’ve made tremendous efforts to adhere to the requirements we have for transparency,” she said.

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