A UNC Board of Governors committee was divided Thursday on the idea of hiring employees for the board, independent of UNC President Margaret Spellings’ staff.
David Powers, a member of the board’s governance committee, made a motion Thursday to craft a policy to hire up to three staff members to report solely to the Board of Governors. Powers, a lobbyist from Raleigh, said he wasn’t sure he supported a separate staff, but he thought a policy should be established in case the full board decided to pursue the idea.
After some debate, the motion ended in a tie, preventing the idea from moving beyond the committee. But on Friday, a board member proposed that the full board take up the issue at its meeting in December; it’s unclear whether that will happen.
Earlier this year, a provision in the state budget passed by the legislature authorized the board to hire its own staff as it “deemed necessary.”
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“I don’t think it makes any sense to ignore this legislation, as we would not ignore any other legislation,” said Bill Webb, a retired judge from Raleigh who supported the separate staff policy. He added that if the board doesn’t act, the legislature might force the issue.
Some members have suggested that such a move would foster an adversarial relationship between the UNC system’s governing board and Spellings, who manages the public university system. As it stands now, Spellings’ General Administration staff simultaneously supports the board while reporting to the president.
“I don’t see where we get a benefit from having separate staff,” said Steve Long, a Raleigh lawyer, who chairs the governance committee. “It will be seen by the president as an undercutting of her.”
Board Chair Lou Bissette, an Asheville lawyer, said the optics would be bad.
“It’s a very controversial issue – divisive in my mind,” Bissette said. “I’m opposed to this. The legislature ... didn’t say, ‘You shall do it.’ They didn’t appropriate $300,000. They said, ‘You may do it with no funding.’ ”
Board member Ann Maxwell questioned how the positions would be funded. Powers suggested the board staff could come from existing General Administration staff. Discussion Thursday centered around the board having a lawyer, a secretary and an auditor.
Frank Grainger, a businessman from Cary, asked his fellow board members why a separate staff was needed.
“This is going to further divide this board,” said Grainger, who is the longest-serving member. “I think this board is the most divided board I’ve ever been on.”
Voting for the idea were Powers, Webb and board members Philip Byers and Randy Ramsey. Voting against it were Bissette, Grainger, Long and Maxwell.