Florida Polytechnic trustees assume assets from USF, then discuss hiring COO

5:19 PM, Oct 24, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Florida -- The Board of Trustees for the fledgling Florida Polytechnic University took several steps forward Wednesday toward opening Lakeland's first university, the state's 12th.

After unanimously agreeing to accept assets and liabilities from the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus, once seen as a potential flashpoint in the creation of the new university, the Board of Trustees (BOT) began discussing how to hire their first employee.

TIMELINE: Controversial history of Florida Polytechnic

While the search for Poly's first president will soon commence, the BOT focused on hiring Poly's first Chief Operations Office (COO).  The board has been relying heavily on resources from the state's Board of Governors as well as employees from the University of Florida as it breaks away from under USF's umbrella.

Poly trustees discussed their ideal candidate, stressing business experience, familiarity with Florida, and a keen awareness of the legislature's heavy influence in higher education funding.

However, some trustees expressed hesitance to "politicize" the job, given the controversial, political history the yet-to-be opened university.

The concern of political influence may be a legitimate one: State Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who made waves last spring in forcing SB 1944 through the legislature, was sitting in on Wednesday's Poly meeting.

He and his wife have remained on the front lines in supporting Polk County's first university, but also in discussing how Poly hires its first employees.

Florida Poly BOT Chair Robert Gidel made it clear the state's 12th university was on the right track and moving forward.

In addition to accepting assets and liabilities from USF, the BOT heard Wednesday that incomplete funding for its $100 million flagship building wasn't a problem.

"That's how it's done in this state," Gidel said, indicating future allocations would be expected from the legislature.

The state will likely be on the hook for the remaining funding for the building, with some estimates as high as $15 million, but Poly supporters have argued the margin is much smaller.

Either way, Poly has friends in high places; Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, was recently tabbed as the new chairman of the Florida House Appropriations Committee.  McKeel played an important role in negotiating the political "divorce" between Poly and USF.

McKeel is also the brother of Maggie Mariucci, a high-ranking administrator at USF Polytechnic before the "divorce."  She was copied on emails from Cindy Alexander, obtained by 10 News in June, indicating attempted influence over the hiring at Poly.

TIMELINE: Controversial history of Florida Polytechnic

Poly's BOT also voted Wednesday morning to help craft an op-ed for Florida newspapers to "get our story out there."  They praised the work of those involved in the Florida Poly Vision booster group, which include the Alexanders.

The rest of the nearly-three-hour meeting consisted of discussions concerning the university's timetable for opening, academic goals, and other planning issues the BOT has been tasked with.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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