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UNC Board of Governors discuss hiring own employees

The second day of the UNC Board of Governors’ meetings in Chapel Hill was fairly tame Friday. A long day of committee meetings Thursday and the desire to adjourn and begin the weekend seemed to keep members from lingering too long on any one report or discussion.

But the seeds of the recently contentious board’s next major disagreement were apparent in tense discussion in the board’s Thursday governance committee that spilled into Friday’s full-board session.

At issue: whether the Board of Governors, which has no dedicated staff of its own, should hire a few employees.

Board member David Powers brought up the issue in the governance committee, moving that the committee draft a plan for hiring three employees to report directly to the board. The employees could help to do some of the leg-work of the recently much more active board and cut down on the wait time when the board relies on general administration staff, Powers said.

But Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette Jr. opposed the move, saying he had spoken to UNC President Margaret Spellings about it and she would consider it another example of the board encroaching on her authority. Bissette said it would also be likely to divide the board, which after several recent controversies had just gotten back to a good place.

“The optics would be bad around the state,” Bissette said of the move, which could be construed as overreach by the board into university functions.

Board member Frank Graingier agreed, saying the board is currently “the most divided board I’ve ever been on or seen,” and that he wants to avoid further divisive moves if possible.

After some back and forth over the issue in the committee, a vote was taken. Bissette made the unusual move of voting himself, though not technically a member of the committee. That led to a 4-4 vote, meaning the motion would not move forward.

That didn’t sit well with some board members. When the full board reconvened Friday morning, board member Marty Kotis asked that the full board consider the hiring matter. Bissette said the issue had died in committee and that barring a 2/3 vote of the board, the full board could not consider an issue that didn’t make it out of committee.

Though the board did not make that vote or further address the issue in its Friday meeting, several members said they expect to see it reemerge in the board’s December meeting.

“It might go through another committee,” said Kotis after the meeting. “Or, when a large number on the board want to discuss an issue, there’s a way to have a full board discussion.”

Kotis said it was unusual for Bissette to create a tie on the issue when the 7 member board might otherwise have voted it out of committee. He appreciated the view of those who oppose hiring staff for the board, he said, but thinks it would make things move more quickly on the board and keep from overburdening existing staff who now deal with board matters.

“I don’t see it as being about undercutting the President at all,” Kotis said.

Grainger said he’s not looking forward to any further discussion of the issue.

“I think we should just do what we do and not get into any other areas,” Grainger said. “Let the President do what she does, let us make policy and stay out of it.”

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