- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Much more than real estate changed hands as Stockton University bought and sold a former Atlantic City casino it had hoped would be its long-sought satellite urban campus.

The tortured deal saw a change of leadership at the southern New Jersey university, in which the president who energetically pushed the deal wound up stepping down, and a lower-ranking administrator with one foot out the door on his way to another job wound up assuming the reigns of the university.

Here’s a look at what happened, and who did what in the Stockton-Showboat saga:

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THE FORMER PRESIDENT

Herman Saatkamp was “a visionary leader during a period of extraordinary growth and progress” at Stockton, a growing state university in the Atlantic City suburbs, according to an independent review of the Showboat deal commissioned by the university. But his zeal for the deal kept the board of trustees in the dark about key facts that might have caused Stockton to scrap the deal, according to the report.

“Saatkamp’s leadership style, and haste to obtain approval of the deal, hampered debate and, in this case, resulted in the board of trustees, which had already approved the transaction, not learning of critical facts,” the report said.

Stockton bought the shuttered casino for $18 million in December from Caesars Entertainment. But conflicting legal restrictions on how the property could be used soon surfaced. Caesars Entertainment placed a deed restriction on it, saying it could never again be used as a casino. But in 1988, the Trump Taj Mahal, Showboat and Resorts signed a covenant requiring that the Showboat not be used as anything other than a casino.

The report said that when Saatkamp learned Trump Entertainment Resorts would not waive its rights under the covenant, he did not tell the board that, and also failed to undertake meaningful negotiations with Trump Entertainment to get it resolved.

Saatkamp at one point threatened to resign if the deal was not approved, according to the report.

In April, Saatkamp stepped down as president, saying he was taking medical leave. In a response to the report, Saatkamp defended his handling of the Showboat situation, and blamed outside counsel for not fully disclosing serious legal problems.

“Nothing in the … report released today changes my fundamental, deeply rooted belief that as president of the university, I acted in the best interest of the university and the citizens of New Jersey,” Saatkamp said. “My actions, as recognized in the report, were well intentioned and “‘not based upon any illicit motive or self-dealing.’”

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THE CURRENT PRESIDENT

While Saatkamp was dealing with the Showboat deal, Harvey Kesselman, a former Stockton student and longtime administrator, was preparing to begin his own college presidency at the University of Southern Maine, not Stockton.

When the Showboat deal blew up in April, Stockton turned to Kesselman, who at the time was its provost and executive vice president. They asked him to stay on through July 1 and hopefully unravel the Gordian knot that the Showboat had become.

The very next day, he acknowledged publicly that Stockton had bitten too quickly on the Showboat deal, and said undoing it would be his top priority in the weeks he had left. He delivered the same message to a state Senate panel a few days later, and seemed to impress the lawmakers with his candor and can-do attitude in dealing with a difficult situation.

In May, Kesselman gave up the Maine job, agreeing to stay on indefinitely at Stockton and finish the job of getting the university out from under the Showboat deal, which was costing it $500,000 a month to maintain a building it could not use.

Last week, on the day Stockton’s trustees approved the latest sale of the property to Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein for $22 million, they also agreed to make Kesselman their new permanent president, authorizing negotiations on a contract they expect to sign on Dec. 2.

“Dr. Kesselman has shown exceptional leadership as well as the willingness to sacrifice his own interests during a challenging time,” said trustee chairwoman Madeleine Deininger. “When the trustees asked him to stay on earlier this year and he agreed, there was a tremendous outpouring of support from the Stockton community, the region and the state. He has more than earned the board’s full confidence.”

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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