UNC Board of Governors members did not negotiate Silent Sam deal, according to documents

The Silent Sam Confederate monument, as it stood on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus before being toppled by protesters in 2018.

On Monday UNC-Chapel Hill’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, agreed to settle its lawsuit against the UNC System over the handling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument controversy.

The paper sued the system and the UNC Board of Governors over a negotiated settlement with the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans in which the system gave that group the statue and more than $2.5 million. The lawsuit argued that the board crafted the deal in secrecy and presented it to the public without holding any public meetings or discussions.

That deal provided the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the money to buy the rights to the statue from the United Daughters of the Confederacy; that agreement was later scrapped by an Orange County Superior Court judge, but not before the group spent a portion of the settlement money. It’s also questionable whether the UDC had the right to sell the statue.

“At The Daily Tar Heel, we feel very strongly that good government happens in the open” said Daily Tar Heel General Manager Erica Perel in an interview with the paper.  “That good decisions happen when they are vetted, when the public has the opportunity to comment on them.”

“And in this case, it became clear that there was very little discussion with the Board of Governors and people who worked there, that there was very little vetting,” Perel said.

Among the revelations made as part of the paper’s suit: the five UNC Board of Governors members who signed a News & Observer  editorial describing their negotiation of the deal did not actually participate in the negotiations or pen the editorial to which they lent their names.

UNC System Vice President for Communications Earl Whipple testified that he wrote the op-ed.

“It was my professional recommendation that individual names gives a public face to this,” Whipple said in testimony on the issue. “And since these five were, you know, tasked with working on this issue, my recommendation was we draft something that all five of them could sign onto.”

Attorney Hugh Stevens, who represented the paper in its lawsuit, told The Daily Tar Heel that Whipple crafted a false narrative in order make the settlement look better.

“In a clumsy attempt to shine a favorable light on two controversial agreements with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he inveigled five members of the Board of Governors to lend their names and reputations to a fictitious narrative claiming that they had negotiated both,” Stevens told the paper.. “… Instead, Whipple merely invoked their names in his attempt to put a gloss on two questionable agreements cooked up by lawyers behind closed doors.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the UNC system will provide depositions on the negotiations and a written summary of how the agreement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans came about. It will also provide $74,999  to UNC-Chapel Hill as part of The Daily Tar Heel suit; those funds are to be used by the chancellor for racial equity initiatives on the school’s campus.

That amount mirrors a similar payment made to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in its settlement with the system. The figure is just $1 shy of the $75,000 limit at which Attorney General Josh Stein’s office would have to approve the settlement.

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