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ECU Trustee scandal heads to UNC Board of Governors committee

The UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance Committee will convene Wednesday afternoon to tackle a complaint alleging a complicated scheme by East Carolina University trustees to influence a student government election.

ECU trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore are accused of attempting to fund and aid a student’s campaign for student body president. Their goal, according to a complaint to the board of governors: to displace the current president, whose votes on the school’s board of trustees have displeased Lewis and Moore.

ECU Board members Robert Moore (left) and Phil Lewis (right).

ECU board chairman Vern Davenport, vice chairman Fielding Miller and secretary Vince Smith sent a letter about the incident to UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey and University Governance Committee Chairman David Powers on Jan. 18. It outlines Lewis and Moore’s overtures to the student, who was not named in the complaint. The letter says the Lewis and Moore’s overtures to the student “appear to demonstrate that they are advancing their personal political agenda ahead of the best interest of the university.”

Last week the UNC system released information related to the complaint, including a 56-page transcript of a conversation between Moore, Lewis and the student wherein they promised the student off-the-record money for the campaign, access to student information from ECU’s student affairs office, a professional campaign manager who has handled North Carolina political campaigns and help with campaign signs and billboards.

Lewis and Moore sent a letter to Powers on  January 24 saying they regret their actions. They believed they were operating in the best interest of the university at the time, they said but realize their actions have reflected poorly on ECU.

“We also realize that we have a responsibility to the UNC Board of Governors, as the governing body of the University of North Carolina system, to conduct our affairs in an honorable and transparent manner,” the letter said. “It is with sincere regret that we acknowledge out actions have misrepresented this obligation.”

The scheme appears to be part of an ongoing power struggle on ECU’s board of trustees that includes a July vote for chair. Lewis and Moore had backed Angela Moss, but the board ultimately voted 7-6 for Davenport. The current ECU SGA president, Colin Johnson, voted for Davenport. Among the Lewis and Moore promised to the student they wanted to run against the current ECU student government president: the help and support of Moss.

Moore and Lewis have filed their own complaints with the board about Davenport. They contend Davenport violated UNC System policy in trying to remove Pitt County Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster from the ECU board of visitors. Foster was implicated in the distribution of pictures and video of former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach drinking with students before stumbling down the street to his car and driving away. Gerlach resigned, but Lewis and Moore were also mixed up in that affair. The two did not fully cooperate with the official UNC System investigation, according to a report made to the board of governors. They did not allow their phones to be examined as part of the investigation, and, at several points, called into question the methods and legitimacy of the investigation itself.

The University Governance Committee could vote to sanction Lewis and Moore Wednesday, though their removal would take a vote of the full board of governors. The specifics of the case are expected to be discussed in closed session.

The next full meeting of the board of governors is Feb. 20-21.

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