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North Carolina’s newly privatized economic development group may create a business advisory board with seats designated as rewards for private funders, board members said during a meeting Friday.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina gets most of its funding from state taxpayers, but members of an advisory board could draw its membership from its private funders, said Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat and a member of the public-private partnership.

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

At Friday’s meeting, Whitehurst said the structure of the business advisory board wasn’t finalized, but he envisioned 20 members from a variety of industries and areas of the state. He said the advisory board would be designed in conjunction with the group’s fundraising plan.

Several seats on the advisory council may go to those who donate to the private arm of the partnership, Whitehurst said, in response to a reporter’s questions after the open portion of Friday’s meeting.

“There may be a few seats for people that are large contributors,” Whitehurst said.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina opened last October, when the state’s business recruitment, tourism and marketing functions were moved out of the state Commerce Department to the newly formed private non-profit.

Lawmakers, when they authorized the move, held the group subject to open meeting and public records laws, and members of the partnership’s board also must adhere to the state ethics law.

The general public is the biggest backer of the partnership, with more than $16 million in public dollars funding the venture.

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The N.C. House of Representatives had its election Thursday for eight members serving four-year terms on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors.

House members voted to keep three current members in place for another four years, while bringing on five new members.

Several of the 30 candidates vying for this year’s 16 open slots on the UNC Board of Governors have also been significant contributors to political campaigns, with more than $1 million in contributions coming from the nominees and their immediate family members.

The House appeared to turn away from some of the more significant donors in their election. Raiford Trask III, J. Edgar Broyhill and Hari Nath were all rejected by House members, and had been significant contributors over the last eight years to political campaigns. Trask, Nath and Dick Taylor are all current board members who weren’t reelected.

Those chosen were:

  • Jim Holmes Jr., a Raleigh accountant (currently on board)
  • David Powers, a Winston-Salem government relations executive with Reynolds American (Currently on board)
  • Mary Ann Maxwell, a Goldsboro businesswoman (currently on board)
  • Pearl Burris-Floyd, a former state representative from Gaston County
  • Alex Mitchell, a Durham developer
  • Philip Byers, of Rutherford County, on staff with the charter school group Challenge Foundation
  • Joe Thomas Knott II, a Raleigh attorney
  • Walter Davenport, a Raleigh accountant who previously served on the Board of Governors

 

Davenport is a Democrat, while the other seven appointed by the House are Republicans. Both Davenport and Burris-Floyd are black, while the other six are white.

The Senate made its selections yesterday, and the new members will join the board at the start of the new fiscal year in July.

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UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque at the Feb. 2015 meeting. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

The N.C. Senate made their choices Wednesday for appointments to the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors. The House will vote on their slate of candidates tomorrow.

Several of the 30 candidates vying for the 16 open slots on the UNC Board of Governors have also been significant contributors to political campaigns, with more than $1 million in contributions coming from the nominees and their immediate family members.

The new members will join the board at the start of the next fiscal year, on July 1.

John Fennebresque, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors who was reappointed on Wednesday, has personally written more than $250,000 in checks to state political campaigns since 2007. (Click here to read my report from earlier today about the connection between the UNC Board of Governors and political campaigns.) Read More

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UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque at the Feb. 2015 meeting. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney who serves as chair of the UNC Board of Governors, responded this week to criticisms of recent decisions  to raise tuition, close three academic centers and get rid of its much-respected system president, Tom Ross.

In an editorial published Thursday by the Charlotte Observer, Fennebresque said the board was happy with Ross’ performance but wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the 17-campus system.

From Fennebresque’s editorial:

We recognize some of our recent efforts to move the University forward have generated criticism and concern for some. Our decision to raise tuition is as unpopular with the board as it is for the people of North Carolina, and it further illustrates the need to look closely at everything the University is doing.

As I have said previously, President Tom Ross has led the University with distinction throughout his tenure. Our decision to proceed with a leadership change had nothing to do with his performance, but simply reflects our belief that all great institutions can benefit from a change in leadership from time to time.

We will conduct a national search for the next UNC system president with great care. We intend to carry on the long tradition of selecting a president of the highest caliber to lead and build on UNC’s foundation of excellence.
Read more here.

 

The board is moving ahead with its presidential search, and this week chose nine members to serve on a nominating committee to select the members who ultimately will screen applicants.

Fennebresque said he hopes to have hired someone by this fall. Ross’ contract keeps him at the helm of the university system until 2016 Read More

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A state Senator who previously chaired the N.C. State Port Authority wants to make contracts the state port authority enters into with carriers a secret.

If passed, the bill would carve out an exemption to the state public records law for “usage” contracts the state port enters into with carriers. The contracts generally detail the costs paid to the state for docking, handling cargo, storage and other services.

NCPorts

Photo from N.C. Ports Authority

Senate Bill 194 was introduced by state Sen. Michael Lee, a freshman Republican from Wilmington, and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Lee, who chaired the State Ports Authority before joining the legislature, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

North Carolina’s public records law defines nearly all the documents, emails, and contracts that public agencies enter into as belonging to the public, and available for public inspection upon request. There are exceptions to the law, and records used by law enforcement for criminal investigations, personnel files, personally identifying information like social security numbers and plans for economic development are frequently not disclosed.

The publicly owned and operated State Port Authority is under the state transportation department, and overseen by an 11-member board. It operates deep water operations in Morehead City and Wilmington, and inland ports in Charlotte and Greensboro, according to a 2013 audit of the port.

A private marina in Southport that the state owns was recently put up for sale by the port authority, according to the Wilmington Star-News.

The N.C. State Ports Authority did not initiate a request for the pending bill about public record exemptions, said Cliff Pyron, a spokesman for the state-owned port.

But keeping the information secret would be beneficial , he said.

“It’s just needed for competitive reasons,” Pyron said.

Other ports on the Eastern seaboard exempt that information from the public record laws, Pyron said, referencing to a recent study conducted for the State Port Authority. Pyron said he did not know what specific states shield that information.

N.C. Policy Watch asked Wednesday for a copy of that report under the state public records law, but it was not immediately made available.

Pyron also indicated that, if the bill passes, the public could access other information at the state port – just not the contracts the state enters into with carriers.

“This is only a very small section of our contracts and only ones that deal with specific ports services,” Pyron wrote in an email. “The overwhelming majority of our contracts—including construction, purchasing, consulting services, etc.-will remain available to the public.”