UConn officials attended the state Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board this month to elaborate on the process by which the University hired assistant football coach Corey Edsall, the son of new head football coach Randy Edsall.
UConn sought and received guidance last fall from the Office of State Ethics before offering the head coach job to Randy Edsall, and was notified that the scenario involving Corey Edsall’s potential employment would be permissible under state ethics regulations.
The board, part of the Office of State Ethics, recently advised UConn that it was seeking more facts to render an opinion as to whether or not the hire of Corey Edsall was permissible. A petition filed by the chairman for advisory opinion was approved at the March 16 meeting, which will initiate further fact-finding by the board on the issue.
UConn’s position is that it followed state guidelines and the Office of State Ethics’ direct counsel – as provided last fall – during the hiring negotiations process, to ensure it was in compliance. David Benedict, director of athletics, and Beth Goetz, senior associate athletic director, attended this month’s meeting on UConn’s behalf.
The University also ensured that, based on past precedent from prior formal advisory opinions, Corey Edsall does not report to Coach Edsall, and the head coach has no influence over Corey Edsall’s compensation or other financial aspects of the job. The University also shared that management plan with state ethics officials.
“When UConn was negotiating Coach Randy Edsall’s contract, university ethics staff consulted with the Office of State Ethics and sought an informal opinion regarding the potential hiring of the coach’s son, Corey,” Goetz said.
“The University presented this as a hypothetical scenario that mirrored the facts: Specifically, that the University was negotiating with a candidate and that part of the negotiations included a contractual provision regarding the potential future employment at UConn of a member of the candidate’s immediate family,” she said.
Presenting a hypothetical is standard practice – encouraged by state statute – when seeking this kind of guidance. This helps ensure that the focus is on the facts of a given situation, rather than on personalities or other factors that are not relevant.
Though informal opinions are not binding, they regularly provide valuable guidance to the university and other state agencies.
“The University did not seek a formal Advisory Opinion from the Board because the informal guidance provided by your office in December, as well as ample existing precedent in formal Advisory Opinions, confirmed the University’s interpretation of the Code of Ethics,” Nicole Fournier Gelston, UConn’s associate general counsel, wrote to the ethics board’s counsel this month.
“Further, while we fully understand that your guidance is ‘informal’ and not binding on the Board, we trust that it is nonetheless accurate and reliable, as well as consistent with the longstanding precedent found in formal Advisory Opinions,” she wrote.
The hire of Corey Edsall was made public in late December 2016. Upon learning through the news media that the then-candidate in question was a coach, rather than a professor or other staff member, the Office of State Ethics began to question university officials about the contractual provision.
Beginning in January, the University sent the Office of State Ethics its plan to appropriately manage the head coach’s son’s employment to ensure it complied with state statutes and ethics rules – meaning, for example, that he would report to a senior staff member in the Division of Athletics, rather than the head coach himself.
As of the March 16 meeting, UConn had not received any response to its questions or requests for additional guidance on this matter.
Gelston and Goetz said UConn is happy to answer any additional questions and provide all available information to the Office of State Ethics and the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board.