UNC Board of Governors could see term limits, if bill passes

Note: This post has been updated to reflect information provided by the UNC system. 

A Senate bill capping the terms of members on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors moved through a House Rules committee Monday, and could potentially shift at least two current members off the board, if passed.

UNCsystemAn individual could serve three, four-year terms (a total of 12 years) under Senate Bill 670, which was headed to the House floor and possible passage during what appears to be the final week of the legislative session.

The current UNC Board of Governors’ policy limits members to three consecutive, four-year terms, while the bill being proposed by Sen. Tom Apodaca would apply to both consecutive and non-consecutive terms.

The full House will vote on the measure tonight.

There are currently three members on the UNC Board of Governors who are in the midst of their third or fourth terms, according to information provided by the UNC system.

John Fennebresque, the chair of UNC Board of Governors and a Charlotte attorney, received a four-year apointment from 1995 to 1999, as well as appointments from 2011 to 2015, according to information provided by a UNC system spokeswoman . He was re-appointed to his third term this spring.

Craig Souza and Frank Grainger are serving their fourth terms on the board. Both men served three, four-year terms from 1997 to 2009. Grainger rejoined the board for his fourth term in 2011, and Souza re-joined in 2013.

Hannah Gage, a former board chair, was a voting member of the UNC Board of Governors from 2001 to 2013. She is now serving in a non-voting, emeritus position.

The state legislature is responsible for appointing all 32 members of North Carolina’s governing board for its public university system. That’s led to significant changes to how the board does business, now that all 32 members currently serving have gotten their appointments from Republican-dominated state legislature after decades of Democratic control.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, introduced the bill regarding the term limits and said Monday it would affect three of the board’s current 32 members if and when it became law.

He did not name the three individuals, and it’s unclear if he was referring to Souza, Grainger, Fennebresque or Gage.

State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, voted against the bill, saying lawmakers could just choose not to reappoint those members, if they felt they had been in their positions too long.

“I’m just wondering why” legislation for term limits are needed, Stam said in committee Monday. “You don’t have to re-elect them to a fourth term.”

Stam said the UNC system is complex, and it can take a while for a person to really understand all 17 campuses and their unique needs. Having members who have served over a period of time can be beneficial, he said.

Apodaca replied that the legislative members may be influenced by campaign contributions they received, and feel they can’t vote against the re-appointment of some board members.

“Some people feel pressured to vote for some Board of Governor members because they may have been very politically active,” Apodaca said.

He also said that he didn’t consult those in the UNC system or on the Board of Governors to find out how they felt about capping the term limits.

“We honestly did not go to them with this,” Apodaca said.

A slot on the UNC Board of Governors is one of the most prestigious appointments in the state, and it’s not unusual at all to have those seeking a spot on the board to contribute heavily to sitting members of the legislature.

N.C. Policy Watch reported earlier this year that candidates for this spring’s slate of UNC Board of candidates contributed more than $1 million in recent years to political campaigns in the state.

John Fennebresque, the current board chair and Charlotte attorney, was one of the most generous contributors to state politicians, having  giving more than $250,000 since 2007.

The UNC Board of Governors is currently looking for a new UNC system president, after choosing to part ways with the current president, Tom Ross, who was selected in 2011 by a board that had been appointed during year in which Democrats controlled the legislature.

The search has gotten some attention in recent weeks, as tensions grow between some members of the smaller presidential search committee and the full board, which has not been privy to the confidential deliberations of the presidential search committee.

The search committee is slated to meet tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. on the SAS campus in Cary.

The News & Observer reported this weekend that draft legislation has been circulating (but not been officially introduced) that would give the legislature a say in who the board selects to lead the UNC system or could make public the names of final candidates.


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