Rutledge: Bielema’s buyout can be released


We will soon know the details of Bret Bielema’s contract buyout, according to a report from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday afternoon.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued an opinion earlier Thursday that the University of Arkansas should release a document that outlines a separate agreement with the Razorback Foundation on terms of Bielema’s buyout.

Bielema exercised his right under the Freedom of Information Act to delay release of the document, as the university intended, by asking for an attorney general’s opinion.

The University is closed this week, but it is expected the documents will be provided this evening to those requesting it.

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The buyouts generally require monthly payments and offsets in payouts by future employment.

The Democrat-Gazette, the Arkansas Times and others have sought the document to get a firm idea of what it is costing the university athletic department and the private nonprofit Razorback Foundation to pay Bielema, fired after a losing season in his fifth year as Razorback football coach.

ESPN, quoting an anonymous source, has put the figure at $11.8 million.

The agreement specifies that the Razorback Foundation has a separate responsibility and it has claimed exemption from the FOI law.

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The buyout clause:

Bielema was fired with a month left in 2017.

Money for the coaches flows from the private foundation, whose income includes payments for premium game tickets, and from the self-supporting athletic department, which shares none of the university’s state appropriations but uses university name and property to make money through ticket sales, TV contracts, merchandising and other means.

The Rutledge opinion, which went to Bielema’s agent, says the document constitutes a personnel record, which is open to public release unless it constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

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It said public interest was “sufficiently strong” in a balancing test against privacy interests to favor disclosure. The opinion notes media attention and says:

“There is a very high level of public interest in documents bearing on the former employee’s departure from the university — a level of interest that is understandable given his prominence and the importance of the matter to the local community.”


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