Moments after the University of Georgia Foundation executive committee learned it would be dissolved, Douglas Ivester offered a motion to go into a secret session.
The former Coca-Cola chief executive, now a leading light on the fading foundation panel, said he wanted UGA trustees to discuss, in private, personnel decisions and "legal matters."
Nontrustee attendees were ordered to exit the special meeting in the posh Bulldog Alumni suite in the Atlanta Financial Center in Buckhead.
No wonder the Board of Regents has informed this not-very-merry band of rich people that they are finished as overseers of UGA's $420 million endowment.
The mere mention of taking up more "legal matters" should have sent a shudder of embarrassment through the foundation conclave. It did not.
In the past two years, the foundation has spent nearly $1 million on "legal matters." Much of that cash went to lawyers for issues related to petty disputes between UGA President Michael Adams and foundation allies of UGA Athletics Director Vince Dooley. Those legal fees might have gone for scholarships or new facilities or more and better faculty at the state's flagship university. Instead, it was frittered away, mostly on irrelevancies.
The runaway spending on lawyers alone was reason enough to send the trustees packing. (Surely, a few old grads from UGA's fine law school could have been recruited to contribute pro bono time.)
In addition, Attorney General Thurbert Baker has warned the trustees to avoid secret sessions, which may violate what's left of Georgia's Open Meetings and Open Records Laws. Baker might as well have been talking to an inanimate object.
Never mind that these ladies and gentlemen of the foundation are charged with overseeing and raising money for the state's largest public institution of higher learning. "Public" and "First Amendment rights" apparently were omitted from their prep-school vocabularies.
Too bad. These folks undoubtedly have generous hearts. Unfortunately, they fail to comprehend the public part of their duties.
UGA is not like privately endowed Emory or Mercer. Ol' Georgia is a taxpayer-supported, land-grant institution operating under the aegis of a democratically elected government. The public ought to have a right to know darn near everything that goes on. Only the very arrogant and/or the very dumb would attempt to hide their official activities regarding the school. Yes, that dumb-arrogant category includes the governor and Legislature, both apparently bent on keeping secret the names of big donors to the public universities.
Of course, the regents are not shutting down the foundation because of closed meetings or exorbitant legal fees. They are phasing it out because the trustees refused to approve a memo of understanding that the regents are the University System's bosses, and that Mike Adams is the regents' designated manager on the Athens campus.
This essay is not meant as a ringing endorsement of our regents. Some members of that august board would be better suited for posts in corrections or perhaps as fish-and-game consultants.
Nevertheless, under the law, the regents rule.
One can argue endlessly that Adams' decision to end beloved Vince Dooley's contract with Bulldog Nation was an astoundingly impolitic personnel decision - one that created unnecessary strife and divisiveness.
True or not, that assertion makes no difference. Adams is the CEO of UGA, and he will remain so until the regents choose otherwise or the president decides he has had enough. To treat Adams as an outsider and an intruder in UGA affairs - as some members of the foundation did for months - is an outrage and an insult and plainly rude. Besides, the other shoe has not yet dropped on all the reasons for Adams' wholesale reorganization of the House that Dooley Built, the athletics department.
Some of Adams' main antagonists in this controversy may pick up the newspaper one morning and find egg on their collective face.
Any foundation member who dislikes Adams should have resigned months ago, as a few did.
Oddly, Adams was a favorite of the foundation board until he fired the board's other favorite, Dooley.
In the days immediately after the regents revealed their dissolution of the foundation, several big-time business guys (and extraordinarily generous contributors) publicly announced their withdrawal from UGA fundraising activities.
Their resignations send an effective protest message. Their retreat from supporting UGA will hurt.
However, there is another side. Consider this vignette: An enfeebled old man, who came to observe the foundation meeting and planned to make a modest contribution to UGA's great library, was told to leave while the trustees took up "legal issues" and other items that were none of his business.
"I'll never give anything else to Georgia as long as these condescending (expletive deleted) are involved," he said as he limped away. Undoubtedly, many similar "little people" who may not make headlines with gargantuan grants feel as he did.
Who wants to blindly contribute cash for education that may wind up earmarked in secret for lawyers' fees or even go to other causes not directly connected to the betterment of the University of Georgia? Certainly no well-educated Bulldog would go along with such shenanigans.
P.S.: The time may be ripe for an overall reassessment of the governance of the University System plus a reaffirmation of UGA's mission to serve all of Georgia, not just the metro elite. Perhaps a more enlightened governor and Legislature will take up that task one day.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Contact him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA, 30160 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . His Web address is www.billshipp.com . His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.