Monday, 18 November 2019 10:46

UNC System board hoping to put recent controversies behind it

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RALEIGH — Members of the University of North Carolina System’s Board of Governors want you to know something.

They’re ready to move past the drama.

Members projected that message Friday, Nov. 15, at a regular board meeting hosted by Elizabeth City State University.

The gathering —led by the body’s newly installed chairman, Randy Ramsey — followed a day of more headlines about a scandal involving board member Tom Fetzer and his unsanctioned investigation of former East Carolina University interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach.

“The good stuff we’re doing across the university? I’m more than happy to talk about that,” Ramsey told members of the press after the meeting. “But we’re going to put these other issues in our rearview mirror, and we’re not going to discuss them further.”

It’s customary for the UNC System to hold a media availability after each board meeting, allowing members of the press time to ask questions. Days before the Nov. 15 meeting, press were notified that Ramsey, and interim system President Bill Roper, wouldn’t host a question/answer session.

Stories from N.C. Policy Watch and the Raleigh News & Observer on Thursday, Nov. 14, revealed that board leaders might be considering sanctions against Fetzer, who twice hired lawyer Peter Romary, of private investigation firm Qverity, to scrutinize board-related matters. In 2018, Fetzer engaged Romary to run a background check on a candidate for an open chancellorship at Western Carolina University —  upending the process. Fetzer hired Romary again this fall to investigate Gerlach after photos and videos showed him drinking and dancing with college students. Romary later secured city video footage that showed Gerlach walking shakily to a car and driving away — the same night he was seen drinking in Greenville bars.

Documents released by the UNC System show that Romary was an unwelcome actor, as UNC hired its own firm to investigate the incident. Additionally, an April 11 letter, first reported Thursday by the News & Observer, shows Fetzer may have been interested in the ECU job after the March resignation of former ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton.

In the email, sent to former UNC Board Chairman Harry Smith and UNC Interim President Dr. Bill Roper, Fetzer outlined a plan called “Operation Rescue ECU.”

One section, labeled “IC’s Remarks,” is a draft speech not attributed to a specific name, but written as though Fetzer would deliver it.

“While I have not spent much time on campus yet and will meet later today with senior staff to develop priorities, I expect that our initial focus will be on operational issues: namely restoring the fiscal health and solvency of the institution and getting our enrollment levels back up,” Fetzer wrote in the speech.

Gerlach was named to the post April 16.

On Thursday, Ramsey told the News & Observer that the board should “consider consequences” for any board member who acts outside of board policies. But Friday’s meeting came, and went, and no one wanted to talk about it further.

Carolina Journal attempted to ask Fetzer about the controversy. “No comment,” he said.

It’s time for the board to move on, board member Darrell Allison told CJ.

The N.C. General Assembly, which appoints the board members, appears to agree.

On Friday afternoon, the Senate voted to elect Dwight Stone, a member of UNC Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, to take Smith’s place on the board. Smith, a source of controversy during his tenure on the BOG, vacated his seat as chairman in October, a little over a year after taking the position.

Smith resigned from the full board Nov. 4, but offered to stay until Feb. 1. If the Senate needed more time to find a replacement, he was happy to continue serving, Smith said.

Stone will take Smith’s place Nov. 22.