Former Razorbacks football Coach Bret Bielema has temporarily blocked public disclosure of a deal he signed with the nonprofit foundation that supports University of Arkansas, Fayetteville athletics, a university spokesman said Thursday evening.
Bielema, fired last month at the conclusion of a 4-8 season, requested that Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issue an opinion on whether his agreement with the Razorback Foundation can be withheld from release under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, university spokesman Mark Rushing said.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since October has sought a copy of the agreement -- which Bielema signed while he was the state's highest-paid public employee -- as part of an effort to determine what the athletic program would owe Bielema if the university fired him.
The University of Arkansas System had planned to make the document public after locating it in its legal office and determining that it was a releasable record, Rushing said.
The system gave Bielema three days to make the request after it determined that the record was releasable under open-record laws. Public employees can seek attorney general rulings for documents that are considered to be "personnel or evaluation records." Bielema's deadline was Thursday.
It's not clear why Bielema wants the document withheld or on what basis.
A phone message left with Bielema was not returned. His agent, Neil Cornrich, answered his cellphone Thursday night but quickly ended the call after a reporter identified himself. Rutledge's office could not immediately provide a letter or other communication from Bielema requesting the review.
Confusion about Bielema's buyout terms persisted throughout his fifth season, which marked the fourth time in two decades the team won fewer than five games.
Bielema was fired with three years and at least $11 million remaining on his university contract, not including bonuses and compensation from the Razorback Foundation.
As of Wednesday, Bielema and the Razorback Foundation continued to negotiate a release agreement that would finalize several unresolved issues, including his buyout amount, officials said. The foundation, funded by donors, will pay Bielema's buyout, Rushing has said previously.
Bielema, reached by phone Wednesday, declined to comment when asked if he had agreed to a buyout amount with the foundation. Scott Varady, the foundation's executive director, confirmed that negotiations were ongoing but did not answer questions about whether talks were related to how much Bielema is due.
ESPN, citing a single anonymous source, reported Dec. 2 that Bielema had agreed to an $11.8 million "negotiated buyout" with the program and that the parties would sign it within a "few days."
Bielema's deal with the foundation, called a "personal services and guaranty agreement," was referred to in the section of his university employment contract that explained what the athletic program would owe him if it fired him.
His amended employment contract with the university includes a chart listing buyout amounts, which appears alongside language saying the chart's numbers are only part of a formula to determine the actual severance pay. It also says the buyout is dependent upon his Razorback Foundation agreement and any amendments to it.
The agreement set Bielema's buyout at more than $11 million, according to a source close to the program. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in October reported the buyout as $5.9 million, based on a legal analysis of Bielema's contract with the university.
UA is one of six public universities under the University of Arkansas System umbrella. The UA campus, the system's largest, is in Fayetteville, while the system's administrative offices are in Little Rock.
The system also includes an Office of General Counsel, led by a head attorney in Little Rock. The office has other associate general counsels who are spread out among the system's campuses.
The Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 6 filed an open-records request with the university seeking the agreement, but the document was found within the system's records, Rushing said. A UA System spokesman said Wednesday night that the record was found in the Office of General Counsel.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously requested "controlling documents related to a buyout" from the university and the Razorback Foundation on Oct. 13 and from the system on Oct. 19. The foundation ignored the request, and the university and the system did not provide it.
Asked why UA did not have a copy of the document if it is considered a personnel record, Rushing said an employee's right to an attorney general review includes "other records pertaining to personnel," not just records in someone's personnel file.
Metro on 12/22/2017
Print Headline: Bielema veiling accord, UA says; Open-records bid seeks pact on ex-coach’s buyout terms