Rutledge approves release of Bielema contract with Razorback Foundation; details the same as reported here earlier | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rutledge approves release of Bielema contract with Razorback Foundation; details the same as reported here earlier

Posted By on Thu, Dec 28, 2017 at 3:23 PM

click to enlarge BRET BIELEMA
  • BRET BIELEMA
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has issued an opinion that the University of Arkansas should release a document in its possession that outlines a separate personal services agreement with the Razorback Foundation that includes terms of Bret Bielema's contract buyout. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported her decision this afternoon

Bielema had exercised his right under the Freedom of Information Act to delay release of the document, as the university intended, by asking for an attorney general's opinion.

The  University is closed this week, a fact of which I was warned last week when talking to university spokesmen about access to this and other documents related to the athletic regime change that saw Bielema, Athletic Director Jeff Long and all but one assistant football coach fired with cumulative buyouts approaching $19 million.

A university employee tells me he expects the document to be provided this evening to those who've requested it.

UPDATE: Here's the document, which university spokesman Mark Rushing retrieved in response to inquiries on a day off. He said the university would supplement the record if it turned up other materials responsive to open records' requests.

The agreement isn't necessarily a reflection of the final agreement on terms between Bielema and the Foundation. I've asked both Scott Varady, director of the Foundation, and Bielema's representative, Neil Cornrich, for clarification on the point.

Varady responded: "I can share that we continue to work with Coach Bielema’s agent on the final release agreement. We have not completed that process yet."

The agreement released today reflects the payout schedule I reported here earlier today and previously — $15.4 million for termination in the calendar year ending Dec. 31, 2017 and $11.7 million for termination in calendar 2018.  If the ESPN report is accurate on a tenative agreement, it would amount to payment at the 2017 level, plus an additional $100,000. Bielema was, afer all, paid almost $4 million for coaching the Hogs in 2017 through the end of the season Nov. 24.

The Democrat-Gazette, the Arkansas Times and others have sought the document to get a firm idea of what it is costing the university athletic department or the private nonprofit Razorback Foundation to pay Bielema, fired after a losing season in his fifth year as Razorback football coach. ESPN, quoting an anonymous source, has put the figure at $11.8 million. That's in line with a promise outlined in a letter summarizing his employment agreement that we've published previously. But that agreement specifies that the Razorback Foundation has a separate responsibility and it has claimed exemption from the FOI law.

The buyout clause we published previously is precisely that included in the document released today:

screen_shot_2017-10-22_at_7.47.15_am.png

Bielema was fired with a month left in 2017.

The document released said further about the payoffs for "convenience" termination:

click to enlarge screen_shot_2017-12-28_at_5.28.36_pm.png

The agreement goes on to say that Bielema must make a "reasonable" effort to seek other employment and that any salary he receives will reduce the Foundation's payment obligations by that amount.  It specifies the Foundation may make no claim on earnings from passive investments.

The university always notes that money for coaches flows from the private foundation, whose income includes payments for premium game tickets, and from the self-supporting athletic department, which shares none of the university's state appropriations but uses university name and property to make money through ticket sales, TV contracts, merchandising and other means.

Here's the Rutledge opinion, which went to Bielema's agent. It says the document constitutes a personnel record, which is open to public release unless it constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy. It said public interest was "sufficiently strong" in a balancing test against privacy interests to favor disclosure. The opinion notes media attention and says "there is a very high level of public interest in documents bearing on the former employee's departure from the university — a level of interest that is understandable given his prominence and the importance of the matter to the local community."

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