From Richard Locker of the Commercial Appeal (slightly edited and rewritten):
The chairwoman of the state Senate Education Committee refused to comment Wednesday on reports that she had demanded the resignation of one Regents board member in exchange for dropping an effort to have three board members removed from office.
Regent Agenia Clark, the president of the Nashville area Girl Scouts and the only black woman on the Board of Regents, resigned on Wednesday, less than a year into her second six year term on the board.
Hours later, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, shelved the bill she filed last month to remove Clark and two other longtime regents – retired Jackson businessman Jonas Kisber and Nashville lawyer Robert P. Thomas.
Clark headed the Board of Regents search committee that last August recommended former state Comptroller John Morgan as new chancellor of the Board of Regents system, the state’s public higher education institutions outside of the University of Tennessee system. The appointment of Morgan, a Democrat, prompted Gresham to hold an Education Committee hearing last September on the search process.
Gresham called members of the board to testify about the search process and their political backgrounds. Nine members attended but Clark, Kisber and Thomas did not. All three signed a joint letter to Gresham last month, soon after she filed the resolution to remove them, apologizing for their “inability to appear” at the hearing and saying they mistakenly believed the committee had been notified in advance.
Gresham declined to comment specifically on whether she or her intermediaries had notified board members that if Clark resigned, she with not pursue the resolution to remove all three. But she made it clear, in a written statement, that she placed the resolution on hold as a result of the resignation.
Gresham’s statement said, “Ms. Clark neither responded to our request to appear before members of the Senate Education Committee, or offered any explanation regarding her inability to present the information which only she could offer as the head of that group.
“It is my understanding that Ms. Clark resigned today as a Regent. I am satisfied that this consequential action is sufficient and therefore do not plan to move forward with any further action at this time regarding the resolution to reject the appointment. Hopefully, there is a greater understanding regarding accountability and the role of the Senate to question such actions of the Board in the future as provided in Tennessee law.”
Gresham declined to talk with reporters beyond her emailed statement.
Clark also declined to return telephone calls. Her resignation letter to Gov. Bill Haslam said that she told Morgan in February that she wanted to resign from the board because “my professional duties, commitments to other boards and the desire to spend more time with my family had become priorities.”
Morgan said Clark’s resignation was effective today, after seven years on the board. She was appointed to a second six-year term last year by then-governor Phil Bredesen.
Governors are always chairmen of the Board of Regents but Haslam was not available to comment today.
Vice Chairman Greg Duckett of Memphis, senior vice president and corporate counsel of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., issued a statement saying he was “disheartened to learn” Clark is leaving the board after seven years. “She was a tremendous asset to the Board, providing leadership on several committees…. Serving voluntarily on the board does require a considerable time commitment, and I respect her decision.”