CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A bill that would allow the selection of University of Wyoming and state community college presidents to be closed to the public has passed the Legislature and has reached the desk of Gov. Matt Mead, who has not indicated whether he will sign it into law.
"I know the Legislature seems by their votes to be very excited by this possibility, but I've let them know that I need some more discussion on this, so I'm torn on it," Mead said Tuesday.
Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said he expected Mead to sign the bill into law because of the strong support it attracted.
House Bill 223 was fast-tracked through the session in 10 days. It passed the House last week on a 41-18 vote, and the Senate approved it 23-7 Tuesday.
The bill was proposed after media outlets in the state protested the decision by UW's board of trustees to hold a confidential search for a new president to replace retiring President Tom Buchanan.
A state district judge last month ruled in a lawsuit filed by several media outlets, including The Associated Press, that current law requires that the names of UW president finalists be made public. However, the bill that passed Tuesday would have the new law take effect immediately with the governor's signature, effectively nullifying the court ruling.
"I think the trustees appreciate the support of the Legislature in this important process," UW lobbyist Chris Boswell said.
The UW presidential search attracted 88 candidates. A screening committee had narrowed the list to eight people when the court ruling was issued. Boswell said after the judge's decision that two of the eight remaining candidates dropped out and two others said they would withdraw if the law failed to pass.
The trustees wanted at least five finalists for the job.
In the Senate's final debate on the proposal, proponents of the legislation said that since the UW trustees decided at the outset to conduct a confidential search, it would be bad policy to open the process now.
"For today, I think the right thing is to live up to the promises that we made to those candidates over at the university," said Sen. Bill Landen, R-Lander.
But Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, said vetting the finalists in the open was important because UW was a large institution supported by state financing.
"It's simply a call for transparency where tens of millions are spent," Dockstader said.