News

Former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach announces new lobbyist position

Dan Gerlach, the embattled former interim chancellor of ECU, has a new gig.

Gerlach will be working for former state Sen. Tom Apodaca’s Raleigh-based Vista Strategies lobbying firm, he confirmed in a tweet Thursday morning.

“It’s an honor to work with Sen. Apodaca,” Gerlach tweeted, along with a link to a Business North Carolina item about his new job. His commitment to excellent public policy to foster a climate for a growing and prosperous NC is strong and unwavering.”

Former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach.

Gerlach resigned from his leadership spot at under a cloud last October after video surfaced online of him drinking and dancing with students in local bars — and then stumbling down the street before getting into his car and driving away.

In the ensuing UNC System investigation, Gerlach claimed not to be intoxicated when he drove home. However, he could not correctly remember the evening’s sequence of events and some important details. Some witnesses claimed that he had slurred speech and trouble walking straight.

Gerlach initially defended himself over the incident, which he said was just being open and accessible to students. He later admitted to poor decision making but said he was the target of a those who wanted to keep him from becoming the school’s full-time chancellor. In a later resignation statement, Gerlach took full responsibility.

“As Chancellor, I had the responsibility and the duty to live out the East Carolina Creed to the fullest extent possible,” Gerlach wrote. “The Creed states that ‘members of our academic society exemplify high standards of professional and personal conduct at all times.’ On the night of Wednesday, September 25 and early morning of Thursday, September 26, I did not live up to these standards as well as the UNC System standards that demand excellent judgement and discretion from the campus leaders. I did not model the behavior that we try to teach our students and to uphold ourselves. Upon reflection and discussion, I believe that this shortcoming was significant enough that my resignation is in the best interest of the University.”

“Make no mistake: the responsibility is mine,” Gerlach wrote.  “It is not the press, not the University or system leadership, and not anyone else who put me in this situation. It was I who made the choices that led to this action. There is no one to hold accountable for the situation except me.”

Before his short stint at ECU, Gerlach was president of the non-profit Golden LEAF Foundation from 2008 to 2019. Before that, he was a top fiscal advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley.

Higher Ed, News

Watchdog files complaint over NC Heritage PAC, Sons of Confederate Veterans

Citizen watchdog Bob Hall filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections Wednesday alleging the NC Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans illegally financed a political action committee that attributed donations to individuals who were not true donors and filed false campaign finance disclosure reports with the state board.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have come under increased scrutiny since the controversial UNC Board of Governors settlement that gave the group the Silent Sam Confederate monument, $2.5 million in a non-profit trust and  a separate $74,999 payment to assure that the group would not use Confederate flags in on-campus protests.

Hall’s complaint is based partially on reporting by The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s independent student newspaper, in which unnamed members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group described potentially illegal actions by the group in the creation and funding of the NC Heritage PAC. In his complaint Hall says he has also spoken with members of the group, which he does not name, who have given him further details about the dealings of the group and the PAC.

The DTH Media Corporation, the non-profit that operates The Daily Tar Heel, has also sued the UNC Board of Governors over the controversial Silent Sam settlement, alleging violations of the state open meetings law.

Hall’s complaint asks for a comprehensive investigation and that the board of elections terminate the NC Heritage PAC and require state legislators, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and various political campaigns to return $28,500 given by the PAC. Among the legislators who received funds from the PAC are Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, each of whom received $2,500 from the PAC.

 

 

Read the entire complaint here.

Higher Ed, News

Western Carolina University Board of Trustees weigh in on state budget stalemate

The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees weighed in on the state budget stalemate Tuesday, passing a resolution calling on lawmakers to overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s  veto of the budget passed by the General Assembly’s Republican majority.

The move comes after last week’s meeting of the the UNC Board of Governors where that board passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to pass the currently proposed state budget – the subject of a months’ long political struggle between Cooper, a Democrat, and the legislative Republicans.

The board of governors’ resolution called for “all boards of trustees to create and approve a concurring resolution as soon as practical.”

Western Carolina appears to be the first university whose board of trustees has done so.

The resolution was passed in a special telephone meeting of the board Tuesday afternoon. One board member was absent, two abstained and all others voted to approve the resolution.

The UNC Board of Governors is appointed by the Republican dominated state House and Senate. The board of governors in turn appoint members of the boards of trustees of the UNC system’s constituent schools. The current, 24-member board of governors is entirely composed of members who are Republican or unaffiliated. No Democrats serve on the board.

 

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors silent on Silent Sam, calls on legislators to pass state budget

In its first full, in-person meeting since its controversial Silent Sam settlement, the UNC Board of Governors made no comment on the issue or the lawsuits and legal actions stemming from it.

Citing pending litigation, board Chairman Randy Ramsey and Interim UNC System President Bill Roper declined all questions on the matter.

Instead, at its Friday meeting, the board took aim at another contentious political issue: the state budget stalemate.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to pass the currently proposed state budget – the subject of a months’ long stalemate between Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislators who have been unable to overturn his budget veto.

The legislature adjourned this week without resolving the budget stalemate, with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger saying it’s possible no new state budget will be passed this fiscal year or next.

The board’s resolution lists the ways in which the current budget would be beneficial to the system and the potential harms of continuing without a new budget.

The resolution goes on to say that the proposed budget would provide an approximate four percent raise to faculty and staff over the next two year while the absence of a new budget “hurts UNC System institutions, faculty, students, and the communities we serve, and threatens the ability of the University to serve the citizens of the State and contribute to the economic vitality of North Carolina.”

The board’s resolution “strongly encourages all elected leaders who support and value the world class higher educational systems inNorth Carolina to move swiftly to enact House Bill 966 and approve with the provisions originally included inSenate Bill 354. Further, we call on all boards of trustees to create and approve a concurring resolution as soon as practical.”

Board member Marty Kotis pushed for the resolution — something he said had been discussed during the budget fight but seemed essential with the legislature adjourning without a solution.

Forget Rs and Ds,” Kotis said. “This is about the university system right here. This really isn’t a political issue.”

The resolution does urge lawmakers to pass the budget promoted and passed by Republican lawmakers rather than to compromise and find a solution that would allow the state to expand Medicaid, as Gov. Roy Cooper and Democrats in the General Assembly would prefer. But Kotis said that’s because the proposed budget is very advantageous to the university system and it’s not clear what a different budget would mean for the system.

“This one happens to favor the university system very well,” Kotis said. “But it’s a budget – it’s about spending money and there’s only finite resources. If you don’t pass this and someone else wants something else, things can shift. If it changes and there are other priorities, I’d hate to see that.”

Kotis said he hopes a Democratic Senator will break with with the party and vote with Republicans to overturn the governor’s veto.

I am hopeful there will be one Senator out there that puts the budget over politics and supports the university,” Kotis siad. “Maybe that’s because I’m more of a Maverick and I break ranks every day. But this is important for the university and impacts so many areas throughout the state. There are so many wonderful things for so many areas and so much that will be hurt if we don’t pass it. So I would hope there would be one person.”

News

NC officials declare January Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Governor Roy Cooper declared January Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month Wednesday as state officials came together to discuss the issue and North Carolina’s efforts at combatting it.

“Combating human trafficking requires all branches and all levels of government to work together in partnership,” said North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Beasley, who spoke at a morning press conference at the North Carolina State Bar in downtown Raleigh Tuesday.

North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley talks human trafficking in North Carolina at Tuesday’s awareness event.

“In Cumberland County, judicial officials and law enforcement have come together to start a new innovative court program called WORTH to help get services to survivors when they do find themselves in court,” Beasley said. “And, while we work to provide greater services to victims and move them out of environments where they are being exploited, our dedicated district attorneys are also working hard to get traffickers off the street.”

North Carolina is consistently ranked in the top 10 states with he most reported human trafficking  cases. Last year, there were 713 charges of human trafficking and other offenses of a similar nature across the state, according to the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein pointed out that North Carolina is geographically appealing to sex traffickers — positioned as a good mid-point between Miami and New York, with plenty of highway access.

“We’re right in the middle, Interstates come right through us,” Stein said. “Human trafficking has that terminology because the victims really are moved. There’s a tool we’ve educated law enforcement to use called [Thorn Spotlight] where you can actually trace a victim as he or she — usually it’s a she — is moved down I-95 from New York, New Jersey, Virginia through North Carolina on their way to Atlanta or Miami.”

“The Interstates play a role and frankly the large number of military installations play a role,” Stein said.

But as Beasley and Stein emphasized Tuesday, the state has made a lot of progress in the last decade.

In 2011 Shared Hope International gave North Carolina a 61 (or D) rating for its efforts to combat human trafficking. Last year the organization gave the state a 94 (or A) rating.

A lot of that progress is due to educational efforts, Beasley said.

Since 2017 the state has required certain businesses, hospitals, public transportation facilities and employment offices to post a human trafficking public awareness sign. Mandatory hotline posting legislation has led to signs in more than 20,000 locations across the state. In 2018 and 2019 $1.35 million in grant funding for combatting human trafficking was distributed in North Carolina.

Last year a new state law (S.L. 2019-245) mandated school personnel in kindergarten through twelfth grade receive training on child sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Education and change has also been necessary for law enforcement and the judicial system, where too many victims of human trafficking find themselves facing charges.

“We’ve already tried to change the law and educate law enforcement that when they encounter somebody who is engaged in criminal behavior, in terms of violating a statute, but they’re doing it because of coercion and the fact that they are a victim, to not charge them in the first place,” Stein said.

There are provisions for victims of human trafficking to get convictions for non-violent crimes expunged from their record, Stein said, but Legal Aid and other pro bono legal services are essential in helping those who may find it difficult to afford to navigate that process.

“This is a crime it’s only in the last five to ten years there’s really been a widespread understanding of it,” Stein said. “I think things are absolutely moving in the right direction.”