The makeup of the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees will change as Dave Palmerlee steps down from the post.
Palmerlee is one of four trustees whose terms expire in 2017. Board members traditionally only serve two six-year terms, and this marks the conclusion of Palmerlee’s second consecutive term. His last meeting as a voting board member was Wednesday.
A graduate of the UW College of Law, Palmerlee served his time on the board out of Johnson County in northern Wyoming. He served as treasurer and vice president before becoming president of the board from 2014-2016.
One of the board’s greatest accomplishments during his time was changing how it worked with the university president, Palmerlee said.
“We completely restructured the relationship between the board and the rest of the university so that it became very active in working through major issues and policies with the president of the university,” he said. “I took the lead in making those changes and getting things structured to that effect. … I think that gave the president of the university a much stronger foundation, and certainly enabled the board to carry out its fiduciary duties in a more effective manner.”
Signing the contract for UW President Laurie Nichols was another “wonderful move for the university,” Palmerlee said.
Current board president John MacPherson said he’ll miss Palmerlee’s presence on the board.
“Dave has been a stalwart in terms of being a trustee,” MacPherson said. “He’s served really unselfishly and given his time and effort to the betterment of the university. And the result is the university is a lot better than it was when he started.”
MacPherson served as vice president during Palmerlee’s term as president. He said Palmerlee was a “great tutor.”
“I will be forever in debt and appreciative of everything I learned from him and the guidance he provided,” MacPherson said. “He was instrumental in allowing me to make the transition from vice president to president. He really facilitated the whole process.”
During each session of the Legislature — which is currently in session with a tentative last day scheduled for March 5 — Gov. Matt Mead is tasked with nominating, and, with the advice and consent of the senate, appointing successors to trustees whose term of office has expired or will expire before the next session of the Legislature.
Kari Gray, Mead’s chief of staff, said the governor generally begins to look at those appointments now. She said applications from those interested in the appointment continue to roll in. Speculating about who the governor will appoint is premature before Mead has a chance to review all the applicants, Gray said.
“When he looks at applications for all boards, he really takes some time to go through,” she said. “Until he arrives at a decision, there isn’t any indication of who will be appointed.”
McPherson, Secretary Jeff Marsh and Mike Massie all have terms expiring in 2017. As they are all serving their first term, they are customarily eligible for a second.
Massie, a retired director of governmental relations for UW, was appointed to fulfill the term of Warren Lauer, who died in 2014 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He said he submitted an application to serve a second term.
“After I retired from the university, the governor asked if I would complete the last two (years of Lauer’s term),” Massie said. “I applied for my own six-year term.”
Marsh also said he would accept a reappointment.
“I would serve if the governor would like me to,” he said.
McPherson said it would be premature to say whether he would be interested in serving a second term before knowing if he would be asked to do so.
Gray said Mead considers a variety of factors when making reappointments. Though sitting members are frequently reappointed, she said “it might be a little strong to say” members are always reappointed for a second term. The governor doesn’t use a formula for those considerations, Gray said.
“He also evaluates re-applicants,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to make sure you have the right geographic split, whether the board is melded together correctly.”
In 2014, the Casper-Star Tribune reported there were nine Republicans serving on the Board of Trustees while state statute at the time called for no more than seven members to be of the same party affiliation. The Wyoming Legislature amended the statute in 2016 to allow for nine members of one party to serve on the board. Currently, there are five Democrats in Massie, Mel Baldwin, Michelle Sullivan, Wava Tully and Larry Gubbels. Republican members of the board are John McKinley, Marsh, MacPherson, Dick Scarlett, Bostrom, Dave True and Palmerlee.
A petition led by UW professors in 2014 called on the governor to appoint more women and minorities to the board. There are currently two women serving on the 12-member board.
Gray said Mead, a Republican, thinks having diversity on boards and commissions is critical when it comes to gender, minorities and party affiliation. But when it comes to making appointments to the Board of Trustees in sparsely populated Wyoming while also considering the need to geographically represent communities across the state, she said it can limit options.
“The governor believes the intent behind the party affiliation part of the statute is an important concept for balance of perspectives and ideas,” Gray said. “Part of the reason for that change was board and commission appointments can get fairly complicated. … With all of those requirements, it’s hard to fill a position on a board. He’s appreciative of the work of the legislature to give some flexibility in regard to party affiliation. Nonetheless, he looks at all sorts of different things for that board, with gender diversification, geographic location, party diversification, skill sets when it comes to the board and how all that blends with trying to get the best person.”
Mead is aware of the gender representation disparity on the board and would consider that when making the appointment, Gray said. However, she said it doesn’t mean it would be the determining factor.
“That will be an important part of his consideration, but it doesn’t mean the selection will ultimately be a woman because of all those other factors,” Gray said.
With the legislative session ending in just less than three weeks and a trustees meeting approaching March 22, Gray said she expects to see a decision from the governor as early as next week.