Did a UNC System school set up shady contract? Audit finds conflict of interest

An N.C. School of the arts film school student mans a camera in the Studio Village complex at the school.
An N.C. School of the arts film school student mans a camera in the Studio Village complex at the school. News & Observer file photo

A university official in North Carolina inappropriately influenced the award of a contract worth thousands of dollars that she then personally benefited from, the state auditor’s office alleged Wednesday.

The allegations deal with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where last year a vice chancellor turned down a construction bid from a company that had done work with the school in the past.

The UNC School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem, enrolls more than 1,300 students from middle school to graduate school.

“She replied that the quote was too high,” the audit reported. “This was despite having no training or experience in engineering or construction. However, others did not think the proposal was too high.”

Instead, according to the audit, she helped steer the work to a different company – one that had recently hired her husband.

The official “used her influence to ensure the company that recently employed her husband” received the contract, the audit says.

The $28,800 contract for her husband’s company, and her involvement in it, raised flags with a whistleblower who then alerted the the office of State Auditor Beth Wood.

“The Vice Chancellor received an indirect financial benefit when she disregarded a University policy which prohibited such involvement,” the report from Wood’s office found.

The official had never informed anyone at the university about her ties to the company, according to the audit.

Wood’s report also found that the official, who isn’t named, “knew, or should have known” that her actions violated conflict-of-interest rules.

The school did not dispute the findings, and thanked Wood’s office for bringing them to light.

The audit recommended discipline against the official. According to the School of the Arts’ response, the vice chancellor left the school last month; it did not say whether she left voluntarily.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran