Diogenes can put down his lantern. A recent deposition secures former UW Chancellor John Wiley's reputation as an honest man.
The deposition was taken Feb. 16 as part of a lawsuit filed by the owners of Brothers Bar & Grill against the UW Board of Regents. The owners, Marc and Eric Fortney, are trying to block the regents' attempt to seize their property through condemnation; the UW wants to use the property for a future School of Music.
Wiley recounts how the Fortneys and university reached a tentative deal: The UW would provide a suitable new property and "just swap keys." Several locations were offered and, in early 2008, one was agreed on. And then the regents, who needed to sign off on the plan, said no.
"Basically they decided that this was not a good deal, not as good a deal as I thought it was," explained Wiley, who stepped down as chancellor in 2008 to return to teaching. "And they said, 'We're going to take over now; we'll get the property for you."
What the regents actually succeeded in doing is getting embroiled in a lawsuit. Wiley, in his deposition, all but says he saw this coming: "I was disappointed because I figured it would probably slow things down and might not work."
Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney representing the Fortneys, has also put his lantern in storage: "The Wiley deposition is interesting to me because it's honest." He says it undermines the UW System's claims that the Fortneys are holding out for more money.
UW officials stress that the Fortneys will get $2.1 million, $1 million more than the property's appraised value, plus "reasonable" relocation costs. But the deal brokered by Wiley included no remuneration, just a property swap.
"They keep trying to condemn the Fortneys as these greedy bar owners," says Wittenwyler. "All our guys want to do is not have something stolen from them. They don't want to profit. They just want to be made whole."
UW System spokesperson David Giroux says building a brand-new bar would be more expensive than what the regents offered - and the Fortneys accepted, prior to filing suit. He defends the regents' actions: "Governing bodies and state officials are obligated to act as responsible stewards of public money."
The lawsuit's central issue is whether the UW can acquire property through eminent domain even though it lacks firm plans, timelines or funding, as with the music school. But Wiley's deposition may add ammunition to the Fortneys' battle in the court of public opinion, which has included an ad campaign and the temporary hanging of a huge "No UW Music School" banner from the bar.
A trial on the lawsuit is slated for April 8 and 9.