UNC governing board will give lawmakers closed-door details about chancellor raises

The governing board of the state’s public university system decided Friday to hand over audio recordings and documents to legislative leaders from a closed-door discussion last month raising the pay of a dozen chancellors.

Friday’s  meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors was called in order to deal with a request from Republicans state Senate leader Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore for details on whether the board complied with open meeting laws when it decided  to raise the pay for 12 of the system’s 17 chancellors.


The UNC Board of Governors voted Oct. 30 to give pay raises of up to 20 percent, or $70,000, in a closed session portion of their meeting. Media outlets with reporters at the meeting, including N.C. Policy Watch, objected to the secrecy of the discussions and the vote behind closed doors.  (Click here to read more about the raises.)

UNC officials have also been called to appear at a Nov. 18 legislative hearing, to discuss open meeting concerns over the Oct. 30 vote.

On Friday, several board members made vague references to the October closed session discussion, saying discussions had been robust and the votes for pay raises close.  N.C. Policy Watch, and several other media outlets, has requested details about the votes, but no information has been released.

Friday’s meeting also included a request by acting chair Lou Bissette for a briefing at the board’s December meeting about its requirements under the state’s open meeting and public record laws.

Bissette said Friday he would release a summary of the closed-session vote to offer more information about what transpired.

Members of the state’ public university governing board also aired some of their differences Friday with each other and lawmakers.

Joe Knott, a Raleigh board member appointed this summer, said he was wary of interference from the political forces at the legislature and feared a “dangerous precedent” could be set by acquiescing to the lawmaker’s requests.

In his comments, Knott then said that a lawmaker pressured former UNC Board Chair John Fennebresque to favor a particular candidate in the search for a new president.

Knott, when asked by reporters, would not provide details about how he obtained that information, nor the name of the lawmaker allegedly involved. Fennebresque, whose leadership of the board was marked by discord, resigned days after former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was hired in mid-October.

Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington attorney and board member who previously served in the state Senate, said he has not faced any pressure from his former colleagues.

“Nobody told me who I should vote for,” he said. He also added that he welcomed scrutiny from lawmakers. The UNC Board of Governors consists of 32 members, all of whom received their appointments from the state legislature.

“They should be looking at us,” Goolsby said.

Marty Kotis, another board member from Greensboro, said he objected to Knott’s allegations, and that the board has the duty to act in a transparent manner with lawmakers as well as the public as a whole.



UNC Board of Governors hold unplanned meeting Friday, while legislature demands information on chancellor pay

Lawmakers want to know more about the closed-door session held last month by the governing board of the state’s public university system, in which most chancellors received significant raises during a secret portion of the meeting.

“On behalf of the Speaker and the President Pro Tem, pursuant to G.S. 120-19, I am writing to request any and all records in the University’s possession regarding today’s UNC Board of Governors’ meeting,” wrote Andrew Tripp, an attorney in Senate Leader Phil Berger’s office, in an email sent the same day as the University of North Carolina Board of Governors’ Oct. 30 meeting.

Tripp asked for any audio recordings, as well as draft minutes and agendas for both the open and closed portions of the meeting. (Scroll down to read his email.)

The 32-member UNC Board of Governors announced this week it will hold a previously unscheduled meeting in Chapel Hill Friday to discuss the legislative request, as well as to get an update on faculty compensation.

Meanwhile, an agenda for the Nov. 18 joint legislative committee on government operations has the UNC system listed for a report, as well as an update about the recent controversy over the McCrory administration’s decision to award a prison maintenance contract to a campaign contributor over correction officials’ objections.

The chancellor raises, which included pay bumps as high as 20 percent or up to $70,000, came as rank-and-file employees have seen little movement in their own salaries in recent years, other than a $750 bonus that all state employees are slated to receive this year.

It also comes shortly after the UNC Board of Governors, who all received appointments from the Republican-led legislature, announced its hiring of former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at a base salary of $775,000, much higher than the $600,000 that outgoing UNC president Tom Ross received as a base salary.

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UNC Board of Governors gave chancellors raises of up to $70,000 in closed-door meeting

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors raised the salaries for 12 of the system’s chancellors during a closed session meeting Friday, giving pay raises of 8 to 19 percent to the top campus administrators.

UNCsystemThe salary amounts were released publicly Monday, with the heads of the state’s two flagship campuses receiving $50,000 and $70,000 raises. (Scroll down to view the entire list of raises.)

Five chancellors, all but one who were hired in 2014 or 2015, received no pay increases. The head of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, the prestigious public high school run by the UNC system, received a pay increase as well.

System officials would not release the salary information Friday, despite objections from several reporters at the meeting that the changes should have been disclosed publicly at Friday’s meeting.

Mike Tadych, a lawyer who works on public record and open government issues for the N.C. Press Association and media companies, told WRAL Friday that the salary information should have been acted on in open session, and disclosed immediately.

“At the end of the day, their ultimate decision needs to be voted on in open session,” Tadych told WRAL, adding that N.C. public records law does not allow public bodies to withhold salary information.

NCSU Randy Woodson

NCSU Randy Woodson

N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson received a $70,000 pay bump, according to the information released Monday. His base salary of $590,000 is now the highest in the UNC system, and a private foundation connected to the Raleigh university will chip in an additional $200,000 each year for Woodson.

Carol Folt, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received a $50,000 pay increase, and will now make $570,000 a year.

Other substantial pay jumps include UNC-Charlotte Philip Dubois, who is now making $387,500 after a $63,050 raise; East Carolina University’s Steve Ballard, who will make $385,000 in base salary after a $62,400 raise and Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher, who will make $335,000 after a $54,500 raise.

The legislatively-appointed UNC Board of Governors indicated the raises approved during a closed-session vote were to align with a policy approved earlier this year to increase the ranges of chancellor and top administrator pay.

But staff and faculty in the UNC system have seen little changes in their paychecks since the start of the national recession, with only nominal raises approved in some years as the legislature has tightened the university system’s budget and mandated more than $500 million in cuts to campuses since 2010.

UNC employees, like all state employees, are slated to receive a $750 bonus this year.

It’s not clear if any on the 32-member board objected to the pay increases. N.C. Policy Watch has asked for more details about the vote taken Friday behind closed doors.



Chancellor Increases – BOG Approved Sheet1-1 by NC Policy Watch

UNC chancellors get pay bump, but public doesn’t get to know (for now) how much

The pay for several chancellors in the University of North Carolina is going up, but system officials aren’t yet saying by how much.

The pay boost was authorized Friday during a two and a half-hour closed session of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors in Chapel Hill.

UNCsystemThe 32-member board did not take a vote on the pay changes in open session, a departure from the procedure required by law for most public bodies in the state.

Instead, it approved the pay changes through a “closed session authorization,” said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

Responding to objections from several media outlets about the information being withheld and decisions being made outside of the public’s gaze, Worthington said the new salaries would be released once the chancellors are informed of their new salaries.

The pay changes comes several months after the board approved new salary ranges for chancellors and top administrators, a move that the board said would help UNC remain competitive with other higher education institutions.

It also comes a week after the board hired former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, offering her a compensation package with a base salary of $775,000 and much higher than the $600,000 her predecessor Tom Ross has made in his final year at UNC.

Meanwhile, rank and file employees of the 17-campus system have had a much different reality when it comes to pay, with little movement in own salaries since the start of the recession. University employees, like all state employees, will receive a $750 bonus this year as part of the budget passed this fall by the state legislature.

G.A. Sywassink, a UNC Board of Governors member who heads its personnel and tenure committee, said that he’d like to see about raises for other university staff “as soon as we can do it, as soon as we can make it happen.”

He said Spellings, when she starts in March, would be consulted about the desire to increase faculty and staff pay.

The pay increases for chancellors authorized in closed session were “fair and honest” and help the system keep valuable leaders in place, Sywassink said.

Generally, local public bodies like county commissions and city councils can only increase pay of employees when they take action in open session, said Frayda Bluestein, a law professor at the UNC School of Government who specializes in open meeting and public record issues.

Any decisions made in closed session are not valid, she said.

Bluestein couldn’t say if Friday’s action by the UNC board ran afoul of open meeting laws, because she was not intimately aware of how the governing board operates, but did say that salaries of public employees are always considered public records.

Worthington, the UNC spokeswoman, said the UNC system’s lawyer Thomas Shanahan felt the decision to make pay changes in closed session, and not open session, and then withhold that information for a period of time did not violate state public record and open meeting laws.

Former UNC Board of Governors chair Fennebresque honored for leadership, after resigning

The University of North Carolina’s governing board honored its former chair Friday, who resigned earlier this week after considerable acrimony and criticism of his leadership during a search for the university system’s new president.

UNC system president Tom Ross (left) and John Fennebresque, UNC Board of Governor, in file photo.

UNC system president Tom Ross (left) and John Fennebresque, UNC Board of Governor, in file photo.

The board unanimously approved a resolution during its monthly meeting acknowledging how John Fennebresque “led the board and the University through numerous controversial issues of vital importance to its future, and did so without compromising his integrity or values.”

Fennebresque, 68, a Charlotte attorney with the McGuireWoods law firm, has served as the UNC board chair since 2014, and had been on the UNC Board of Governors from 1995 to 1999. He returned to the board in 2011, and had just been re-elected by the state Senate to his third term this summer.

He resigned from his post Monday, just three days after the board selected former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as the next president of the 17-campus system. Spellings will begin her job in March. (Click here to read my article from earlier this week about her.)

Fennebresque did not attend Friday’s board meeting.

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