Lobbyists can’t serve on UNC System board under bill proposal


Members of the UNC System Board of Governors collect for a gathering in May 2019.

UNC System

A Republican lawmaker in his first full time period as state senator is transferring to remove a layer of political affect from the highly effective physique that units coverage and influences the priorities of North Carolina’s 16 public universities.

A bill filed Monday by Sen. Jim Perry, of Kinston, would bar the state legislature from appointing lobbyists to the UNC System Board of Governors. If signed into legislation, Senate Bill 546 would minimize off a method some lawmakers affect the state’s greater schooling system by appointing shut allies and donors, probably making the board extra impartial.

The UNC System BOG is in some ways viewed as an extension of North Carolina’s General Assembly. In current years, the Republican majority has stacked the board with 24 members, flushing it of Democrats. Three members are at the moment lobbyists — Reggie Holley, David Powers and Thom Goolsby — and one is a former lobbyist. Others embody donors, former lawmakers or champions of Republican insurance policies.

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby waits and watches with different members earlier than the beginning of an emergency assembly of the UNC Board of Governors on the SAS campus in Cary. Harry Lynch [email protected]

Perry’s bill would stop lobbyists from attempting to steadiness the pursuits of the UNC System with these of purchasers who need sure laws handed and lawmakers whose help they should convey these payments throughout the end line. Some lobbyists with big-name purchasers even have the facility to direct marketing campaign finance cash to legislators, stated longtime marketing campaign finance watchdog Bob Hall.

“They get appointed because they developed a cozy relationship with legislators,” Hall stated. “They’re a part of the good ol’ boy network and become enmeshed in that good ol’ boy system. Legislators can feel better putting them on the board as a bit of reward but also a safe appointment that they know won’t rock the boat. The whole thing is just very incestuous.”

Democrats did the identical factor after they have been within the majority, Hall stated.

UNC System Committee on Student Governance chair David Powers, left, confers with UNC System common counsel Tom Shanahan on Feb. 5, 2020. Travis Long [email protected]

Lobbyists’ position

In this yr’s legislative session, lawmakers crammed 12 seats for board members with expiring phrases and one additional seat to interchange Darrell Allison.

Allison is an advocate of faculty selection and a former lobbyist. He resigned from the board to turn out to be chancellor of Fayetteville State University, which was met with criticism from some students, faculty and alumni.

State leaders had a chance to enhance the racial diversity of UNC System leaders, most of whom are white males. However, not a lot modified with the brand new appointees by way of both political make-up or the variety of girls and other people of coloration.

Another outstanding lobbyist, Tom Fetzer, resigned from the board final yr after changing into concerned in a number of controversies. Then in March, Fetzer despatched a textual content message saying he was placing collectively a fundraiser for Republican Rep. John Bell, which Fetzer and Bell later stated was a mistake.

Board member Tom Fetzer speaks on the UNC Board of Governors assembly Sept. 7. Fetzer later stated he was troubled by an increase in tuition. [email protected] Julia Wall

Then President-elect Peter Hans poses for {a photograph} with Board of Governors members Reginald Holley, left, and Leo Daughtry following their assembly on June 19, 2020 in Chapel Hill. If a brand new bill passes, lobbyists like Holley would have the ability to end serving their phrases. But lobbyists couldn’t be appointed transferring ahead, and future board members must resign in the event that they or their spouses turn out to be lobbyists. Robert Willett [email protected]

Holley, a lobbyist reappointed to the board this yr, has close ties with House Speaker Tim Moore, a News & Observer investigation present in October.

If the laws passes, lobbyists like Holley would have the ability to end serving their phrases. But lobbyists couldn’t be appointed transferring ahead, and future board members must resign in the event that they or their spouses turn out to be lobbyists.

“Doing this would enable us to avoid any appearance of potential conflicts and prevent good ideas from being discounted because of assumptions of someone’s motive,” Perry stated.

Most public establishments are ruled by individuals appointed by state legislators or governors, so it’s not unusual to have boards align with the political powers within the state, stated Henry Stoever, president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. And it’s not a difficulty to have a former state legislator or a lobbyist on a board, he stated. But it turns into an issue if these board members solely take heed to who put them there and solely do what the governor or state legislature needs them to do, Stoever stated.

“Board members need to exercise independence of thought regardless of how they got to that board,” Stoever stated.

With dozens of different payments filed forward of the Senate’s Tuesday submitting deadline, it’s unlikely the bill will likely be heard or voted on anytime quickly. And as a result of the bulk occasion advantages from appointing political allies to the board, it might not obtain broad help.

If signed into legislation, nevertheless, the bill would additionally bar lawmakers from appointing state legislators and staff or officers of the state, college system or its constituent establishments to the Board of Governors. Spouses would even be ineligible for appointment.

In its present type, the bill wouldn’t limit lobbyists from being appointed to the boards of trustees of the faculties inside the UNC System, which every encompass 13 voting members. Four of these members on every board are appointed by the legislature.

Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican from Mocksville, filed legislation last week that will add extra political affect to the board. It would require that 4 nonvoting members of the General Assembly be appointed to the board for two-year phrases.

Under the Dome

With the beginning of the brand new yr and a brand new legislative session, The News & Observer has launched a brand new Under the Dome podcast. We’re unpacking laws and points that matter to maintain you up to date on what’s taking place in North Carolina politics twice every week on Monday and Friday mornings. Check us out here and sign up for our weekly Under the Dome e-newsletter for extra political information.

Lucille Sherman is a state politics reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. She is an award-winning reporter who beforehand labored as a nationwide information and investigations reporter for Gannett. Using the safe, encrypted Signal app, you’ll be able to attain Lucille at 405-471-7979.

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