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Regents change from secret ballot to voice vote on leadership posts

The state Board of Regents, which traditionally has chosen its leaders by secret ballot, now is recording members’ individual votes after discovering its procedures violated the Freedom of Information Law.

State education officials, who report to the board, said Friday that the violation was only technical and did not invalidate votes on March 21 to elect a chancellor and vice chancellor that prompted a FOIL request from an unnamed media organization.

“We conformed to what we should be doing, but it’s really much ado about nothing,” said Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the 17-member panel.

The rules change, adopted last month, requires that selection of board chancellors and vice chancellors be by voice vote — rather than on paper ballots — and that individuals’ votes be recorded in the official minutes of the meeting.

The change was first reported by Politico, an online news service.

The Regents, founded in 1784, set much of the state’s policy for schools, colleges and other educational institutions. Members have long made public their votes on policy issues, though not on leader selections.

In March, the board elected Betty Rosa of the Bronx and Andrew Brown of Rochester to three-year terms as chancellor and vice chancellor, respectively. Members of the panel cast their votes on slips of paper.

Rosa’s selection marked a policy shift, because the former New York City school administrator had clashed over policies with her predecessor, former chancellor Merryl Tisch of Manhattan.

A major point of dispute was the state’s rapid introduction of difficult Common Core tests, which Tisch encouraged and Rosa opposed.

Voting results initially were reported as 15 “yes” ballots and two abstentions for Rosa, and 17 “yes” ballots for Brown. A later tabulation found that the two abstentions — recorded as votes “not secured” — were cast by Tisch and Anthony Bottar of Syracuse, the vice chancellor at the time.

Tisch and Bottar both left the board at the end of their terms in March.

The state’s Freedom of Information Law, adopted in 1974, requires recording of individual votes by all policymakers, ranging from village trustees to state legislators.

“It should be obvious, when members of a public body take action, that the public knows what each member does,” said Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.

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