Rutgers-Camden board names 2 to new joint panel

Posted: February 23, 2014

CAMDEN A new governing body for Rutgers-Camden, in its first meeting Friday, took a series of quick administrative actions, including appointing two members to a board that has eminent domain power in the city.

Though it is still two gubernatorial appointments short, the board voted to fill positions on a joint panel with Rowan University that is expected to oversee the development of an "eds and meds" corridor in Camden.

"The [Rutgers] board wanted to get started, Rutgers wanted to get started, I wanted to get started. The joint board that's waiting for these two appointees, which we now have, they wanted to get started," Wendell Pritchett, Rutgers-Camden chancellor, said after the meeting. "Everybody just wanted to get started, and there wasn't anybody who said we should wait."

Rowan made its appointments to the seven-member joint board in February 2013, naming Chad Bruner, administrator of Gloucester County, and Fred Graziano, executive vice president of TD Bank Financial Group.

Gov. Christie made his three nominations in October: Jack Collins, a former Assembly speaker; Louis S. Bezich, chief of staff to the president of Cooper University Hospital; and Michellene Davis, who had been chief policy counsel to Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

The Rutgers-Camden board Friday appointed two of its own - Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Robert Mortensen, a retired Conrail executive - to that joint board. It was unclear Friday how they had been selected.

As the meeting proceeded to the election of the two joint board members, Gerald C. Harvey, a lawyer who chairs Rutgers-Camden's new board and the Rutgers University board of governors, turned to Dudley Rivers, a financial executive at Johnson & Johnson and 1982 Rutgers alumnus. He asked:

"Dudley, I understand you have agreed to step down from this nomination, is that correct? And would you be prepared to move another individual in your stead?"

He was. He did not say why he had been initially named or why he had removed himself from the nomination.

"With that having been covered, I would like to ask Mr. Mortensen and Mayor Redd to please step out of the room," Harvey said.

Less than a minute and a half later, after unanimous votes with no discussion, Harvey announced: "Great, this is exciting, we now have elected our two representatives to the joint board of governors."

A similarly quick decision had been made minutes earlier, when Harvey stepped out of the room to be elected unanimously as Rutgers-Camden board chair.

Anthony DePetris, an administrator at Camden's LEAP Academy University Charter School, which has a partnership with Rutgers-Camden, had stepped in to assume the chair: "Colleagues, if you look under Tab A in your booklet, you will see that there is a proposed slate of nominees for officers of the Rutgers University-Camden board of directors," he said.

After the meeting, Harvey said his nomination as chair and the nominations to the joint board had been prepared.

"Actually, it evolved from a series of one-on-one conversations; the directors-elect certainly felt that they could talk to each other, and . . . there emerged a consensus that I originally opposed, which was that I be the chair of the Camden board of directors," he said.

Redd and Mortensen were similarly chosen after a series of one-on-one conversations, Harvey said, which another board member confirmed.

"One-on-one conversations are not meetings. This was the first meeting," Harvey said.

Pritchett said he expected the joint board, its membership now complete, to meet for the first time by the end of the semester.

That board was granted eminent domain power in Camden by a bill sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and signed into law last month by Christie.

"Every college has [eminent domain] but Rutgers," Sweeney said Friday. "That's not the first option; that's the last option."

Christie, after signing the measure into law, seemed unaware of it when asked about it this month during a radio program.

"If a bill like that comes to my desk, I'll have to take a close look at it," he said. "I haven't heard anything at this point about eminent domain being given to a university - I don't think that's the way it works."

Christie has not commented further.

Redd said after the meeting that eminent domain could be used to help the city. "Responsible eminent domain usage is probably the best way to couch my thoughts," Redd said. "We certainly have to redevelop the city of Camden to not only increase the presence of the meds and the eds, but certainly to create mixed-income neighborhoods."


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

Inquirer staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.

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