Board of Regents to whittle down list of candidates for executive director

Some applicants could be discussed in public

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Iowa’s Board of Regents plans to meet next week to identify semifinalists to replace the board’s former Executive Director Robert Donley — one month after officially launching a search.

Regents on Tuesday plan to evaluate the 40 individuals who applied for the position. The executive director answers to the nine-member volunteer board and oversees its staff and an array of activities related to its business, human resources and program operations.

The board will discuss in closed session those candidates who have requested privacy. It will evaluate the applicants who haven’t made such a request in open session, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.

“Any applicant that has not requested they be discussed in closed session would be discussed in open session,” he said.

Those chosen as semifinalists will not be identified “if they have requested to be discussed in closed session,” Lehman said.

The board has not yet chosen a date for semifinalist interviews. Board members also have not yet decided if they will make public the names of finalists — as they have done with university presidential searches.

Applications were due Aug. 7, and the board expects a new executive director to start Nov. 1.

Keith Saunders, the board’s state relations officer, has been serving as interim executive director since Donley, who announced his resignation in June, officially ended his nine-year tenure with the board in July. His departure came in the middle of the board’s search for a new Iowa State University president — after former ISU President Steven Leath left in May to lead Auburn University.

In announcing his resignation, Donley said the timing was right — coinciding with a change of leadership on the board. But he also noted the Legislative cap on the board’s executive director salary was an issue when he was hired.

“The board is going to have to deal with that,” Donley told reporters after announcing his resignation.

The Legislature-imposed salary cap of $154,300 is unusual and makes the position among the lowest-paid of its kind nationally, according to Donley.

An advertisement for the executive director position lists the base salary between $100,840 and $154,300. Donley earned far more than that during his tenure through board-approved bonuses and deferred compensation.

In 2015, he made $338,466. In 2016, he made $287,267. In the budget year that just ended, he brought in $294,300 thanks to a deferred compensation payout of $140,000.

Saunders, in his interim executive director role, is making $200,000 — $50,000 above his previous pay as state relations officer and $45,700 above the cap. Board officials have said interim appointments are not subject to the Legislative pay restrictions.

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