Legislators want records from UNC board’s closed session on chancellor raises

Legislative leaders want “any and all records” from the UNC Board of Governors’ closed-door meeting last month where 12 chancellors’ salaries were raised.

Andrew Tripp, general counsel to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, requested the records on Oct. 30, the same day of the meeting. The UNC system board will meet Friday to consider the request.

Tripp wrote to UNC attorney Tom Shanahan on behalf of Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. “This request includes but is not limited to i) the audio recording made of both the open and closed portions of today’s meeting and ii) any agendas and minutes produced pursuant to G.S. 143-318.10, including draft and final versions, for both the open and closed portions of today’s meeting,” Tripp wrote.

The demand for records from a UNC board discussion was rare, and perhaps an indication of the level of lawmakers’ discontent with the 32-member governing board. For months, legislators have expressed dissatisfaction with the way the board has operated, both for a general lack of transparency and for a secretive presidential search process.

Board leaders and Shanahan were summoned to appear before the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations next week. When asked Friday if that had to do with chancellors’ raises, Berger said: “It’s about that, but it’s about a more basic thing, and that is the idea of what you do in a closed session. But I think those two things are connected, obviously connected.”

Berger went on to say that there “may be multiple issues with reference to the Board of Governors.”

“I would say for me at this point the more problematic has to do with the open meetings issue,” Berger added, “because I think that cascades into a number of other issues.”

Media organizations also objected to the Oct. 30 closed-session vote, and the university’s refusal to release information about the salaries promptly after the action. Three days after the meeting, the university provided information about the raises, which ranged from 8 percent to 19 percent for a dozen chancellors across the state.

The News & Observer has requested minutes of the closed session, which so far have not been released. State law says the minutes of closed meetings must be produced, as long as their release wouldn’t “frustrate the purpose of a closed session.” The raises, which were retroactive to July 1, have already been implemented.

Shanahan has said the information would not be released to the media until the board approves the minutes at its December meeting. Lou Bissette, vice chairman of the UNC board, said the minutes had not been prepared yet and wouldn’t be approved or provided to reporters Friday.

Amanda Martin, counsel for the N.C. Press Association, said there is no legal reason for the board not to release them. “Just because the minutes haven’t been approved does not mean that they are not a public record,” she said.

Bissette said he expected the board to take action to release the information, including a tape of the discussion, to the lawmakers on Friday.

“It is an unusual request,” Bissette said, “but under the statutes, as far as we can determine, they have every right to ask it.”

Tripp cited statutes in asserting the legislature’s authority to gain access to the board’s records.

“There may be some confusion regarding the ability of the North Carolina General Assembly to access records of closed sessions of public bodies,” he wrote to Shanahan. “In light of this, it may be helpful for your office to email a reminder to board members of the University’s continuing duty to respond to legislative requests for information, even where a particular meeting occurs in ‘closed session’ for purposes of the Open Meetings Law.”

Tripp asked for the information “as soon as possible.”

The raises have drawn the ire of faculty groups at Appalachian State University and East Carolina University. Faculty and staff at the state’s public universities received $750 bonuses but no raises this year.

Triangle chancellors were among the beneficiaries of the Oct. 30 board action.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt received a raise of 9.6 percent – or $50,000 – bringing her base pay to $570,000. N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White got a $45,000 raise – almost 16 percent – bringing her annual pay to $330,000.

Randy Woodson, chancellor of N.C. State University, received a 13 percent salary hike – or $70,000 – which will bring his base pay to $590,000. During the summer, he was given a four-year deal and a compensation package with an annual stipend of $200,000 paid by private funds at NCSU, plus the possibility of performance bonuses.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed to this report.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill