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UNC Board of Governors meeting Thursday (at a private Charlotte law firm) to discuss replacing Tom Ross

John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

A subcommittee of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meets in Charlotte tomorrow to talk about the search for a new president of the 17-campus higher education system.

The board’s presidential search nominating committee is holding a public meeting at the McGuire Woods law firm in Charlotte, where UNC Board Chairman John Fennebresque is a vice-chairman at the law and lobbying firm.

Though the meeting is at a private law firm, it is public and open to anyone who wishes to attend. The meeting is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McGuire Woods law firm, 201 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte.

The only items on the agenda are a review of past presidential searches and discussion by the committee.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom have received appointments from a Republican-led legislature, are looking for a new president after President Tom Ross was unexpectedly pushed out in January. Fennebresque, the board chair, cited a general desire for change while praising Ross for his leadership and denying that politics played a role in Ross’ ouster.

The state’s open meeting laws allow public bodies (like the UNC Board of Governors) to hold their meetings in areas usually off-limits to the public as long as the general public is allowed to attend, said Brandon Huffman, a Raleigh-based attorney with the Stephens, Martin, Vaughn and Tadych law firm, which specializes in First Amendment issues.

“They can have it there,” Huffman said. “They do have to allow the public the same access as they would at any other venue.”

Though legal, holding a meeting at a private venue does “raise eyebrows,” Huffman said, especially following a contentious February meeting the full UNC governing board had in Charlotte last meeting.

It was at that meeting on the UNC-Charlotte campus that Fennebresque moved the meeting to a smaller room in order to exclude student protestors objecting to the closure of three academic centers. The smaller meeting was broadcast into the original meeting room for excluded audience members.

That meeting, which I reported on here, appeared to run afoul of North Carolina’s open meeting laws because only select members of the public were allowed in, Huffman said.

“We think that’s a violation of the open meeting laws,” Huffman said.

Note: If you’re attending Thursday’s meeting in Charlotte, and plan on live-streaming it (via Meerkat, Periscope or another application), let me know by emailing me at sarah@ncpolicywatch.com .

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