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The Daily Tar Heel

Shakeup at ECU after videos reveal more about interim Chancellor's night out


The Board of Governors' Nov. 9, 2018 meeting included remarks from Margaret Spellings on her announcement to resign as UNC-system president, a public comment session on Silent Sam and a grant supporting adult students. 

Dan Gerlach was the interim Chancellor of East Carolina University until he resigned on Saturday. 

In September, he was photographed drinking and dancing with students at Club 519 and Sup Dogs, for which he was put on administrative leave. 

Less than five months into the job, Gerlach was working to build a persona among campus as a relatable leader. He resigned on Saturday after security footage from the previous night was leaked to multiple news outlets, showing him losing a flip flop for a moment while walking to his car, which he then drove away in.

The Board of Governors and ECU’s Board of Trustees met in back-to-back closed session meetings Tuesday morning in Chapel Hill, lasting about five hours total, where they received an update on the situation at ECU. 

After pictures of Gerlach at the Greenville, North Carolina bars made it to social media, the UNC System hired an outside firm to investigate further. Media reports say an attorney for the firm reached out to the city of Greenville on Oct. 14 to ask about potential videos of Gerlach from the night, but neither the firm nor Gerlach’s attorneys pressed further about acquiring the videos at the time. 

But someone else did. Peter Romary is the general counsel and partner of a risk management, investigations and screening firm founded by multiple former CIA agents, and he filed a petition in the Pitt County Superior Court to obtain the security footage last Friday, the day before Gerlach resigned.

The footage showed Gerlach driving out of the parking lot taking up space in two different lanes, even though he previously said he broke no laws that night, but rather just ended up in a bad position.

"This is not what we were led to believe had taken place on that night," said T. Greg Doucette, an attorney in the Triangle who was a student member of the Board of Governors while in college. 

He said he thinks it’s weird the UNC System investigators didn't take action on the tapes after they learned about their existence on Oct. 14.

“But then nobody looked at them until Friday? That just doesn't sit right with me," he said. “My cynical side says they knew they were bad and didn't want to know.”

An anonymous source started leaking the videos to multiple news outlets on Saturday, telling WRAL they wanted to be identified only as someone “close to national police organizations who were not appreciative of Gerlach implying he was set up or framed somehow with assistance from members of law enforcement.”

The owner of one of the bars Gerlach visited on his night out said, "the guy came in with some off-duty cops to have some beer,” according to texts sent to a reporter for The Daily Times. Conspiracy theories have emerged on Twitter claiming the police, or a prostitute, intentionally led Gerlach into a position where he could be compromisingly photographed.

In an interview with Pirate Radio, Gerlach said he would never blame the officers he was drinking with, but said the speed with which the pictures ended up on the internet led him to believe "There's something going on here rather than kind of random, some kind of random event."

Romary, the attorney who filed the petition before either the UNC System’s outside firm or Gerlach’s attorneys, was representing the Police Benevolent Association of North Carolina and the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police when he filed the claim for the videos, but a spokesperson for the PBA of North Carolina told The Daily Reflector "PBA doesn’t have any cases assigned to attorney Peter Romary at this time,” but the spokesperson also said Romary has worked for them in the past.

And this isn't the first time Romary has been involved with the Board of Governors' business. 

During a search for a new Western Carolina University chancellor last year, one Board of Governors member, Tom Fetzer, a lobbyist from Wilmington, asked Romary and his firm to look into a discrepancy he said he noticed in the final candidate’s resume. In a column originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer, he said that he briefed fellow board members on Romary’s findings privately, rather than in a public setting and received criticism for that from other board members. 

In an interview with N.C. Policy Watch, Fetzer admitted to having a conversation with former system President Margaret Spellings about the possibility of him being the interim Chancellor at WCU. 

The Board of Governors didn't make a public comment about the progress of the investigation into Gerlach's conduct, and Ronald Mitchelson, provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, is serving as the new acting chancellor. 

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