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Grapevine: Rutgers raising eyebrows, again

Rutgers has raised eyebrows with its pick for a new finance chief, who left a prior job amid concerns over a consulting contract. But the university is standing by the selection.

The administrator, J. Michael Gower, was the University of Vermont's chief financial officer when he resigned in 2008 over what school officials said was a policy breach. Reports at the time said that under his watch, the university had entered into $5 million worth of contracts without approval from the president and board of trustees.

The fees were for a consulting group the school needed to help fix a new computer-based system that tracked grants and contracts, according to a report by Vermont Public Radio. But contracts worth more than $250,000 require approval.

Gower went on to spend five years as Yeshiva University's chief financial officer before being tapped to be Rutgers' new senior vice president for finance. And while a source said some university insiders felt uneasy about the pick, a Rutgers spokesman said, "The university was aware of the matter, and discussed it during the recruiting process with Mr. Gower and others familiar with the facts."

The spokesman, E.J. Miranda, also noted Gower's more than 30 years of experience in academic financial management, including posts at Duke University. Gower also holds top posts with professional organizations, including a board seat with the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

"We are pleased that he is joining the leadership of Rutgers, and we're confident that his knowledge and abilities will serve Rutgers well," Miranda said in a prepared statement.

Gower will take over Sept. 30 as senior vice president for finance, according to an Aug. 29 announcement from Rutgers President Robert Barchi. He'll lead the integration of financial units after the statewide higher education restructuring this summer, while managing an operating budget of more than $3 billion, Barchi said.

Optimism, but concern, on ACA

Health insurance experts in New Jersey seem optimistic the federal government will indeed be ready on Oct. 1 to launch their new health insurance marketplace, where individuals and small businesses will buy federally subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

But these sources also are frustrated, as all the details of how the marketplace will function are not yet available.

"I've decided to stop memorizing stuff, because it keeps changing," is how one source puts it.

Another source said federal officials are on track to roll out the complex, behind-the-scenes IT infrastructure that will be needed to figure out how much government subsidy money small businesses and individuals are entitled to.

But "they are totally swamped and working weekends on this, because there is so much to do," the source said.

A source said there are flaws in the ACA that Congress needs to fix, but Obamacare is such a partisan lightning rod in Washington that there's no hope it will be tweaked. This source has a message for Congress: "What about us, the electorate? You guys are playing with our lives."

What businesses and consumers really want to know, of course, is what sorts of health plans insurers will sell on the marketplace — and how much they'll cost. As preparations for the rollout have continued over the past months, we started hearing that information might be available in mid-September — but we'd also heard early September. Now, it sounds like this information will be revealed very close to the Oct. 1 launch date.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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