Two chancellor searches, two controversies, one interesting coincidence

UNC BOG member Tom Fetzer (L) Peter Romary (R)  (Romary Image: Qverity.com)

As the UNC Board of Governors struggles this week with the latest in a series of chancellor controversies, an interesting coincidence has surfaced tying the downfall of former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach to last years’s explosive, aborted chancellor search at Western Carolina University.

As Policy Watch reported last year, the Western Carolina search process came apart when UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer  – an influential lobbyist from Wilmington, former mayor of Raleigh and past chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party – stepped into the search process and, some members said, overstepped his role.

After a final candidate was chosen from finalists by then-UNC President Margaret Spellings, Fetzer contacted a friend at the “screening firm” QVerity, which Fetzer described as “founded and staffed by former CIA personnel.” He said he was prompted to ask that the company do a check on the candidate, whose name was redacted from the e-mails, when he heard the candidate had lectured somewhere (location redacted) of which he had never heard.

Fetzer argued that the candidate had misrepresented information when applying — a charge others on the board disputed.

Fellow board members charged that Fetzer improperly interfered with the search process by giving the candidate’s name and information — which were supposed to remain confidential — to an outside group.

The candidate withdrew from consideration, scuttling a search process that had already cost $100,000.

Fetzer later admitted he had a conversation with UNC President Margaret Spellings about being appointed interim chancellor at the Western Carolina himself. Two former trustees at the school asked if they could put his name forward, Fetzer said, but in a telephone conversation with Spellings he was told she had already decided on an interim. Fetzer denies he pursued the chancellor’s position himself, saying he only had his friend look into the chosen candidate because he believed the vetting process wasn’t thorough enough.

The friend Fetzer contacted at Greenville-based QVerity was Peter Romary, a British-born attorney and former director of Student Legal Services at ECU.

Romary also appears to be connected to Gerlach’s recent trouble at ECU.

According to Pitt County Superior Court records, Romary applied for and received copies of City of Greenville traffic camera footage that showed Gerlach weaving and struggling to put on a flip-flop before driving away in his car after a night of drinking. That footage, which the UNC System obtained after Romary, was anonymously sent to a number of news outlets last weekend.

Gerlach abruptly resigned ahead of the end of the UNC investigation, which until last weekend he had hoped to weather.

Court documents show Romary requested the footage while representing the Police Benevolent Association of North Carolina and the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police.

However, when asked this week about its connection to the incident, the Police Benevolent Association of North Carolina said Romary was not representing the group when he requested the footage. The North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police could not be reached Tuesday.

[Update:  On Tuesday the Southern States Police Benevolent Association  released a statement on behalf of the North Carolina branch. The group said Romary contacted them because Gerlach had, in a radio interview, said he was drinking with some off-duty police officers on the night he was videotaped dancing and drinking with ECU students. This led some in the ECU community to suggest local police officers were involved in filming and publicizing Gerlach’s activities.

“Attorney Peter Romary recently contacted PBA concerning very serious and outrageous allegations against police officers and other members of the legal community surrounding the investigation of the former interim chancellor,” the statement said.  “Mr. Romary was advised at the time we had no members who had reported such concerns to us. He advised he wanted to personally look into the matter and would report any findings ‘of false allegations’ against police officers.”]

While Gerlach ultimately took full responsibility for his behavior, he initially questioned how footage of him drinking and dancing with students at a Greenville bar had been gathered, edited together and sent anonymously to multiple news outlets in the first place.

The UNC Board of Governors met for two hours in closed session Tuesday and the ECU Board of Trustees met in closed session for nearly as long shortly afterward, with UNC System Interim President Bill Roper and several members of the board of governors in attendance.

Roper and members of the board of trustees declined to comment on the controversy surrounding ECU after the meeting.

ECU Board of Trustees Chairman Vern Davenport said it’s all been “frustrating” but that he hopes Roper will announce an interim chancellor in the next few days. The search for a full time new chancellor at ECU will begin properly with next month’s meeting of the school’s board of trustees, he said.

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