Board of Regents Chairman Greg Patterson secretly recorded a February 2017 conversation in which he criticized Rep. Mark Finchem.
The chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents resigned his post Monday, days after his condescending comments to a rural state lawmaker earlier this year were published by The Arizona Republic, ending a secret among political insiders.
In a letter to the board, Greg Patterson acknowledged he had been “overzealous” in his defense of the university system and he did not want to become a distraction to the work of the state universities’ governing board.
Both the board’s president and its vice chairman had recently distanced themselves from Patterson’s comments.
“Regents serve as volunteers for an eight-year term that comes with heavy responsibilities and requires thousands of hours of intense effort. My opportunity to participate in that effort and share those responsibilities for the last five years has been a great honor,” Patterson wrote in his resignation letter.
He quits with three years remaining in a term that began in 2012 under then-Gov. Jan Brewer. Gov. Doug Ducey will name a replacement to the board.
Patterson could not be reached for comment.
His departure stemmed from insults he leveled at state Rep. Mark Finchem’s appearance at the end of a private meeting over cost containment in higher education in February where another conservative lawmaker and several people from the Board of Regents were present. Patterson secretly recorded the meeting and shared it with others afterward.
Finchem said he took little joy in Patterson’s resignation.
“Relationships are going to have to be repaired. There was a level of trust that existed before this dust-up that doesn’t exist now,” he said.
“Mr. Patterson has done what he thinks is right,” Finchem continued. “As far as an apology, he may have apologized publicly, but I haven’t heard a word from him. The fact that he wrote something in a blog someplace that I don’t follow, if that’s what he wants to point to as an apology, well I just don’t do business that way.”
Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said, “We respect Greg’s decision and thank him for his service.”
Finchem said he was more bothered by the secret recording than by Patterson’s insults. And he remains focused on ensuring better accountability for the board that oversees Arizona’s public universities “because it was never about Mr. Patterson.”
Finchem and Rep. Jill Norgaard, both of whom are Republicans, had expressed concerns that the board and universities had not done enough to contain costs and were effectively passing along wasteful spending to students.
For nearly 20 minutes of their February meeting, Patterson was civil, arguing that the Board of Regents and universities had been fiscally responsible while fulfilling their constitutional obligations in the face of state funding cuts. Then he lashed out at Finchem, who sports a thick mustache and often wears a Sunday-go-to-meeting tie at the state Legislature.
“I would start — you’re from Saddlebrooke? — I would start by saying the costume doesn’t work. You know, trim that down. Buy a suit. Decide where you want to be, but this isn’t it. OK.”
Patterson later ascribed his comments to a “caffeine-induced rage” at lawmakers who were taking unconstitutional aim at eliminating the Board of Regents.
Records show Patterson emailed the recording of the meeting to regents staff with the subject line: “Gather around the computer at lunch and play this please.”
Eileen Klein, president of the regents, said she learned of the recording only after Patterson sent it to staffers, some of whom were “very bothered” by it, she said. Klein was “stunned” and “flabbergasted” by its existence and told board counsel about it, she said.
Klein, who attended the February meeting, acknowledged the episode could have longer-term consequences for regents’ relations with state lawmakers.
During the past legislative session, the comments complicated the negotiations over a proposed $1 billion university bonding plan that became the most contentious element of the 2018 budget.
Republican lawmakers eventually voted for the idea, but only after it had been significantly reworked and with 11th-hour lobbying from Ducey’s team, the regents and key university officials.
Ducey later signed the bonding bill in a carefully orchestrated ceremony with the school mascots and select members of the university and legislative community present. The governor did not, however, invite Patterson.
After The Republic submitted in May a request under the state’s Public Records Law for records related to the encounter, Patterson disclosed on his blog that he had recorded the meeting.
The recording is legal and, according to his blog entry, something Patterson does regularly to document his remarks, “assess my tone and eliminate any habitual verbal tics.”
Klein, Kelleher, Finchem and Norgaard told The Republic they did not know at the time that they were being recorded.
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