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Attorney involved in ECU controversy releases “final statement”

Peter Romary, the Greenville-based attorney who has been tied to members of the UNC Board of Governors in at least two chancellor controversies, released a statement Wednesday addressing his role and for whom he was working.

UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and attorney Peter Romary.

In tense email exchanges over the last two weeks, Romary was accused by UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan of telling people he was working on behalf of the UNC system and UNC Board of Governors. Shanahan demanded Romary cease and desist those representations, which led Romary to reply that he has worked for board members Tom Fetzer and Harry Smith and has made that known.

Smith, who stepped down from his role as board chairman last month, resigned from the board entirely this week on the same day Romary’s emails became public.

A WBTV report Wednesday revealed further emails and text messages in which Romary claims he has been investigating ECU and its former Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach on behalf or with knowledge of N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne).

Bell disputes that and has sent his own cease and desist letter to Romary, asking that he not represent himself as working on Bell’s behalf.

Romary sent a lengthy “final statement” to Policy Watch Wednesday in which he claims to he have been involved in investigations into various issues of corruption, sexual assault and coverups at East Carolina University more than three years.

Despite email and text message statements to the contrary, he claims not to have represented himself as working on behalf of the UNC system or legislative leaders.

“Over 3 years ago, I was hired, by a private party, to investigate potential instances of misconduct within the UNC system,” Romary said in the statement. “I was not reporting to the media and I was not the author of things sent to the media – I did report several key findings to 3-4 members of the UNC Board of Governors who thankfully had the wisdom to hear and the eyes to see. I have never represented myself as working for the UNC system, nor have I represented myself as working for the legislature, or the leaders thereof. I have never had a private, or confidential UNC system or institution document in my life.”

“My instructions were to try to show things rumored to be happening were NOT happening,” Romary said. “Rumors – about drug induced sexual assault, mistreatment of victims of sexual assault, paying witnesses to lie to investigators, misuse and abuse of funds, people misrepresenting themselves (and potentially committing serious state and federal crimes) to get jobs, potential espionage against campuses and people and also whether people lied and allowed huge petitions and online attacks to occur by hiding the truth.”

Romary claims that texts and emails wherein he invokes the names and titles of UNC Board of Governors members and legislative leaders have been taken out of context.

“People can read into snippets of conversations, some online and some off, what they will – I cannot stop those out to ‘prove a conspiracy or legislative threats,'” Romary said.

Read the entire statement here.

For months persistent rumors have circulated that current legislators and UNC Board of Governors members themselves will seek the increasing number of open chancellorships – and even the presidency of the UNC System. Four campuses currently have interim chancellors: ECU, Fayetteville State, UNC Chapel Hill and the UNC School of the Arts.

Those rumors were given fuel last summer when the search process for the chancellor at Western Carolina University was scrapped after a board of governors member gave confidential candidate information to an outside search firm. Fetzer was that board member.

Fetzer – an influential lobbyist from Wilmington, former mayor of Raleigh and past chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party – stepped outside the normal search process in leaking candidate information to Romary’s firm, which investigated it.  That led the prime candidate for the position to withdraw. Fetzer asserted the candidate hadn’t been completely forthcoming in his application – something refuted by other board members and system leaders. It was later revealed Fetzer had spoken to system leadership about becoming interim chancellor at Western Carolina himself, but was told they had already chosen someone else.

The controversy led to fierce arguments on the board and an overhaul of the search process. Under the new policy, no board of governors member may apply for a position as chancellor of a UNC school without first resigning their position on the board. Members of the board of governors will also no longer serve on search committees, though they can recommend committee members.

Last month, Fetzer denied he is pursuing any of the currently open leadership positions.

“Lord no,” he told Policy Watch, saying he wouldn’t want to take his family through the rough, social-media dominated process of either running for office or pursuing one of the university leadership spots.

House Speaker Tim Moore has repeatedly denied he will seek the UNC System presidency — though in the last few weeks, board of governors members and fellow legislators have begun openly discussing the possibility and saying he would be a good candidate.

Critics charge that a Moore presidency would lead to an even more politically charged and divisive atmosphere.

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