During a tense meeting with state lawmakers, Greg Patterson, the chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, resorted to attacking everything he could — including one lawmaker’s appearance. And he recorded it all.
“I would start — you’re from Saddlebrooke? — I would start by saying the costume doesn’t work. You know, trim that down. Buy a suit. Decide where you want to be, but this isn’t it,” Patterson said to State Representative Mark Finchem, regarding Finchem’s Western-style clothing (the lawmaker’s photo is at right).
The remarks were made during a February meeting, and recently were obtained through a public-records request by The Arizona Republic. Months later, Patterson disclosed on a blog that he had recorded the meeting, prompting the records request from the Republic. Patterson did not respond to the Republic’s request for comment for an April story first detailing the exchange, which Finchem at the time called “highly inappropriate.”
The recording’s existence — which previously only Patterson knew about — has created controversy itself. The recording is legal, and Patterson said he occasionally records himself to asses his tone and any verbal tics. Board of Regents President Eileen Klein said she was shocked by the recording.
“Even if it’s within the letter of the law, it clearly creates a lot of questions, and it will create open questions about the ethics of doing something like that because it’s just not a common practice,” Klein told the Republic.
She also said the exchange could create long-term tension for board-Legislature relations. Patterson said he was standing up for the board.
“There’s a point where you have to tell legislators that you’re not going to take stuff anymore, that what they’re doing is unconstitutional,” Patterson told the Republic. In the same blog post where he disclosed his recording of the meeting, Patterson also apologized to Finchem for the “offensive tone” he took, though not his words.
“I’m sorry for the offensive tone that I used,” he wrote. “I stand by what I said, but my tone was harsh, angry and unprofessional. And for that, I apologize.”
Patterson said he had to stand up to a bill that would have greatly diminished the Board of Regents’ power, calling it unconstitutional. The bill, which would have created separate governing boards for each university in the system, which includes the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University — has since been withdrawn from the Legislature. Finchem said he is drafting a “comprehensive restructuring” of the Board of Regents, which he has criticized as mismanaging the university system.
When several regents, university presidents and lawmakers were invited to a bill-signing ceremony in May for a $1 billion university bonding package, Patterson wasn’t invited.