Board: No desire to replace O'Connell

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 11:51 p.m.

A member of the University of Florida's board of trustees went unconfirmed by the state Senate last session, but the chair of the state Board of Governors says there's no plan to replace UF trustee Cynthia O'Connell.

"There's been no conversation with me about (replacing O'Connell)," said Carolyn Roberts, chair of the Board of Governors. "We're very pleased with her."

The Board of Governors, which oversees the state's 11 public universities, is empowered to appoint five of UF's 13 trustees. In 2006, the board reappointed O'Connell, senior vice president of a public relations firm headquartered in Tampa, for a second five-year term as a UF trustee. But since the Senate did not confirm O'Connell last session, the board could appoint another trustee if it desired.

Without confirmation, O'Connell can still serve as a voting member through the regular legislative session ending in May. If O'Connell were not confirmed this time around, however, the board would have to appoint a new trustee in her place under state law. Roberts said she believes O'Connell will be confirmed this session, which would extend her term through 2011.

O'Connell, who was confirmed by the Senate in 2001 for her first five-year term, was not confirmed last session because of a technicality, according to board officials. Bill Edmonds, spokesman for the board, said required paperwork for confirmation was not submitted before deadline to begin the confirmation process.

In addition to O'Connell, the board failed to submit paperwork for eight other trustees at universities across the state who are also unconfirmed, Edmonds said.

Just as some of his predecessors have done, newly elected Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has used the Senate confirmation process — or lack thereof — to appoint his own choices to state boards and councils. This month, Crist announced that he would withdraw the appointments of 284 people who had been appointed to state boards and councils but weren't confirmed by the Senate. Of those 284 seats, five are on university boards, but none of them is at UF.

Constitutionally, the governor is empowered to appoint six of the 13 members of UF's board. O'Connell's seat, however, is filled by a Board of Governors' appointment so Crist can't withdraw her name and replace her. But might Crist pressure the Board of Governors to replace O'Connell? Roberts, the board's chair, says she doesn't see that happening.

"That doesn't appear to be his style," said Roberts, president of Roberts Real Estate in Ocala. "He's very respectful of our board."

Crist will be entitled to appoint two new trustees to UF's board in 2008 when the terms of Al Warrington and David Brown expire.

In addition to the 11 trustees appointed to staggered five-year terms by the governor and the Board of Governors, UF's Student Government Association president and Faculty Senate chair serve one-year terms as trustees by virtue of their offices.

O'Connell, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, was married to the late Stephen C. O'Connell, a former UF president for whom the university's basketball stadium is named.

She is vice president of Hill and Knowlton, and serves as general manager of the public relations firm's Tallahassee office. O'Connell, a Florida State University graduate, is one of two appointed trustees to have not attended UF.

Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@

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