MOHELA board schedules do-over meeting on college loan sale

Thursday, March 2, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After being accused of violating the state's open meetings law, the board of Missouri's college loan authority has scheduled a do-over meeting to consider the sale of some of its loan assets -- this time with public testimony.

The Board of Directors of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority plans to meet March 10 at the Lake of the Ozarks to take public testimony on its plan to sell billions of dollars worth of loans over several years as a way to finance Gov. Matt Blunt's higher education initiatives.

The board already voted on Jan. 31 to adopt the plan. But it did so at a meeting that lasted only minutes with no public testimony and no public discussion by the board members. That's because the board members had hashed out the details of the plan in advance of the meeting through a series of one-on-one conversations.

Attorney General Jay Nixon sued MOHELA board members Feb. 14, contending they violated the state Sunshine Law a dozen times by failing to give proper notice of meetings and holding secret discussions -- that should have been public -- while developing the proposal.

An agenda for the March 10 meeting includes not only public testimony but also the potential repeal of the board's Jan. 31 vote and a Jan. 24 vote in which the board agreed to cooperate with the governor's office. The agenda also includes the consideration and potential adoption of similar motions again endorsing the loan sale.

"There apparently has been some concern over the process that the board may have used, and so in order to alleviate any concerns, the board has decided to reaffirm its decisions," Will Shaffner, MOHELA's associate director of business development, told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Nixon said the March 10 meeting will not end his Sunshine Law litigation.

But "hopefully, this will now begin the public, legislative and gubernatorial actions that would be necessary if a deal of this nature and magnitude were to move forward," Nixon said.

As approved by the board Jan. 31, the agency would sell $2.4 billion in loan assets this year and additional loans in ensuring years to generate a total of $450 million for Blunt's college spending plans.

Blunt has proposed to spend $300 million of those proceeds on construction, $100 million for an endowed scholarship fund, $20 million for endowed professorships and $30 million for an endowment that would attract high-tech businesses to college campuses.

Those spending decisions would need legislative approval. House Republicans have outlined an alternative that would spend less on construction and more on scholarships. Their plan would use part of the money to pay down state debt but would direct nothing to professors or the business attraction endowment.

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