Since the UNC-system Board of Governors held a private retreat almost two months ago, accusations of breaking the N.C. open meetings law have been refuted by board officials — a back-and-forth match that might come to a head this week.
The board, a decision-making body for all 17 system campuses, held a closed workshop Aug. 10 and 11 to welcome 16 new members who were appointed in the spring.
Andrew Payne, a former student member of the board, has raised concerns about potential violations of the open meetings law. His concerns have persisted despite system administrators’ claims that the retreat was legal.
Payne, an N.C. State University alumnus who served on the board from 2000-2002, plans to hold a press conference after UNC-system President Thomas Ross’ inauguration at N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University Thursday.
The open meetings law states that public bodies must open official meetings and policy discussions to the public and the media.
Laura Luger, vice president of the system’s legal affairs, said in an email that members were aware of the law, and no university affairs were discussed.
“It wasn’t an ‘official meeting,’” Luger said. “It’s that simple.”
But Payne said he thinks the board did discuss official business at the retreat.
In his initial Aug. 18 email to administrators, Payne requested all materials given to board members at the workshop. He received the records, but he has since added emails related to the event, invoices and rosters of attendance to his request.
Luger said the board will comply with his requests.
“We have been responsive to Mr. Payne’s requests for records to date, and will continue to be responsive as we are to all public records requests,” she said.
Payne sent another email to board administrators on Sept. 27 saying he wouldn’t back down.
“Why do I continue to press this issue? Because there is a vacuum of leadership in the university,” he said.
Payne plans to use the inauguration to highlight his cause.
Joni Worthington, vice president for communications for the system, said the board will not be involved with the press conference.
“It’s not official, and it’s not handled through the university,” she said.
Jonathan Ducote, an NCSU alumnus who served on the board after Payne from 2002-2004, said he also supports transparency on the board.
Ducote said Payne’s actions are consistent with ideals held by members of the NCSU community.
“There’s a general feeling within N.C. State that people need to be held to account,” Ducote said.
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