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The Daily Tar Heel

DTH settles lawsuit over alleged Open Meetings Law violations in BOG Silent Sam meetings

Silent Sam was located on McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill. 

Silent Sam was located on McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill. 

DTH Media Corp., parent company of The Daily Tar Heel, settled its lawsuit against the UNC System over allegations of violating state Open Meetings Law on Monday.

As part of the settlement agreement, the UNC System agreed to:

In exchange, DTH Media Corp. agreed to dismiss its lawsuit.

Read the full settlement:

DTH Media Corp. filed the suit in January 2020 after five members of the UNC System Board of Governors signed an op-ed that called into question whether the settlements were properly vetted in the public eye.

On Nov. 21, 2019, the System agreed to pay $74,999 to limit the SCV’s actions on System campuses. Six days later, the System signed an agreement to give the SCV possession of Silent Sam and enact a $2.5 million trust for its preservation.

The DTH complaint alleged that the committee of BOG members charged with negotiating the SCV agreements represents a “public body” — meaning it is required to conduct public meetings, give public notice and keep minutes. The op-ed signaled that the deals had been properly vetted by the BOG, as required of a public body. 

"... both agreements with the SCV were conceived, negotiated, approved, and executed in total secrecy in violation of the Open Meetings Law,” the legal complaint from DTH Media Corp. alleged. 

Judge Allen Baddour vacated the Nov. 27 settlement regarding the trust in February, saying the SCV never had standing, or even an ownership claim, over the statue.

Since Baddour's dismissal, the statue's fate has been in the hands of the UNC System, and it is unclear what will come next. UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has repeatedly maintained that the statue should not return to campus.

DTH General Manager Erica Perel said she is thankful the case is finally settled.

"At The Daily Tar Heel, we feel very strongly that good government happens in the open, that good decisions happen when they are vetted, when the public has the opportunity to comment on them," she said. "And in this case, it became clear that there was very little discussion with the Board of Governors and people who worked there, that there was very little vetting."

The information revealed in the lawsuit showed that the DTH's reporting on the settlements over the last year has been accurate, she said, and the newsroom will continue to ask these tough questions of the University and UNC System.

Emily Siegmund, who was co-editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel when the lawsuit was filed, said the process was worth it to bring transparency and clarity to the situation.

"This is part of being a watchdog organization," she said, "and it showed that there are people with eyes on these things."

More reporting and information on this topic is coming soon. 

university@dailytarheel.com

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Anna Pogarcic

Anna Pogarcic is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and history major.