CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that eight members of the Board of Trustees are appointed by the North Carolina General Assembly, four are appointed by the governor and the student body president fills the thirteenth and final spot. The UNC-system Board of Governors appoints eight people to serve as trustees, and the other four are appointed by the General Assembly. The last member is the student body president who serves as an ex-officio member. The story has been updated with the correct way members of the BOT are appointed. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
When the Board of Trustees huddled in closed session on Aug. 28, awaiting instruction on how to proceed on the delicate issue of Silent Sam, Savannah Putnam was there.
As the University's student body president, her job is to act as a liaison between the students and administration. Yet despite her status as a voting ex-officio member of the BOT, she was asked to leave a conversation which took place approximately a week before the BOT and Board of Governors held special meetings to discuss the monument.
Haywood Cochrane, chairperson of the Board of Trustees, asked Putnam to drop out at some point during the call. He said that since Putnam previously made a public statement supporting the removal of Silent Sam from McCorkle Place, there was now a conflict of interest.
WRAL released copies of electronic communications among University administration from the day of Silent Sam's toppling and the following day. In the release, an Aug. 21 text from a redacted number in a University administration group chat reads: "Haywood—here’s a draft response to share with DTH if you approve. In her role as student body president, Trustee Savannah Putnam issued a public statement about the Confederate Monument that is in opposition with the University’s point of view. Because of this conflict of interest, I suggested that she may want to recuse herself from the call, and she agreed. We also agreed to reconnect at a later time. Haywood Cochrane Chair, Board of Trustees"
In a Putnam administration group message obtained by the DTH, the SBP recounts the situation differently.
“I just got kicked off the BOT call,” she said.
North Carolina statute GS 163A-211, the conflict of interest law affecting public positions, says “a covered person or legislative employee shall not knowingly use (their) public position in an official action or legislative action that will result in financial benefit to (them), a member of (their) extended family, or business with which (they are) associated."
The conflict of interest law is financially oriented. It can only otherwise be evoked to exclude someone in a public position if “the conflict of interest would prevent a public servant from fulfilling a substantial function or portion of the public servant's public duties.”