UNC Board of Governors chairman and UNC Interim President discuss issues facing the university system
A previous version of this article misstated the political party of Hilton Terry Hutchens. It has been corrected.
In what state Senate leader Phil Berger called a “vote of confidence” in the current UNC Board of Governors, the Senate voted Thursday to reappoint five current board members and appoint a Winston-Salem business executive to fill a sixth opening.
Democrats criticized the election as “a bogus process that diminishes our ability to select from a full and diverse pool of candidates.” The group of six elected Thursday includes one woman and one African-American; none are registered Democrats.
The Senate’s election came one day after a rancorous debate in the House, where Democrats objected to leadership’s decision to hold an up-or-down vote on a predetermined slate of candidates, rather than hold an election by ballot as in previous years.
Between the two chambers, 10 incumbent Board of Governors members will return for another four-year term, with two new Republican members joining the board. The size of the board will shrink from 28 to 24 members as a result of previous legislation.
The Senate’s reappointed board members are charter school advocacy group leader Darrell Allison, former Republican state Sen. Thom Goolsby, Charlotte investment firm leader Anna Spangler Nelson, Raleigh business executive Temple Sloan and Fayetteville attorney Michael Williford. The newly elected board member is Martin Holton, a longtime executive at Reynolds American. Only one person on the ballot didn’t make the cut: Kaye Bernard McGarry, an educational consultant from Charlotte. McGarry got votes from some Democrats but none from Republicans, who all voted identical ballots.
Any senator can nominate someone; their nominee would then be on the ballot as long as the person agreed to serve if they win.
In the House, the winning slate included current UNC board members C. Phillip Byers, Pearl Burris-Floyd, David Powers, J. Alex Mitchell and James Holmes, and Hilton Terry Hutchens, a Fayetteville attorney who previously served on the Fayetteville Technical Community College Board of Trustees.
The new board will have six women (a quarter of the board), three African-Americans (an eighth of the board) and one American Indian. In the House, Democrats objected that a black Democrat — Walter Davenport — wasn’t reappointed even though he sought another term and was instead replaced by a white Republican, Hutchens.
Berger told reporters after Thursday’s vote that the Senate supports the current board’s work. And he downplayed recent infighting among board members and controversies surrounding the ousters of leaders like UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt and system president Margaret Spellings.
He said there aren’t any “complaints within this body about it. ... I think there’s a reason for all of the changes that have taken place, and a lot of time when changes occur, some people like it, some don’t like it.”
Berger said he speaks with board members “on a fairly routine basis” about their work. Berger also brushed off Democrats’ complaints that the slate should have been more diverse. “While they may philosophically be mostly Republicans ... there’s a lot of diversity amongst Republicans. The university system is in many respects not really a partisan thing.”
Before Thursday’s election, four Senate nominees withdrew their names from consideration: Sharon Decker, former commerce secretary under Gov. Pat McCrory and current chief operating officer of Tryon Equestrian Partners; Kirk Bradley, CEO of Lee-Moore Capital Company in Sanford; Scott Lampe of Davidson, an executive at Hendrick Motorsports; and Henderson County Manager Steven Wyatt.
In a news release, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said that many of them “were either coerced into withdrawing their nominations, or didn’t want to deal with the headache of a system and process that’s been tainted by partisan politics.”
Asked if any senators had called nominees encouraging them to withdraw, Berger said he didn’t make any calls but “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about what another member may or may not have done.” None of the 11 nominations were made by Democrats, and Blue had previously told the NC Insider that Democrats viewed making nominations as an “exercise in futility.”
Democrats also criticized the rules of the election, which required each senator to vote for six candidates or their ballots wouldn’t count.
“I think I ought to have the choice to vote for one, two or three ... you’re throwing out valid choices of mine,” said Sen. Toby Fitch, D-Nash. Berger pointed out that the rule has been in place for decades, and that it was included in a unanimous resolution that established the process for this year’s election.
Still, the majority of Democrats’ votes were not counted because they picked five or fewer names, with many avoiding a vote for Goolsby — who recently called for Silent Sam to be restored in its original location — or Williford. Of the Democrats’ votes that were counted, Sens. Floyd McKissick, Jeff Jackson and Paul Lowe voted for McGarry instead of Goolsby, and Sen. Don Davis voted for the winning slate favored by Republicans.