- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 20, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina legislators are re-electing current members of the state university system’s governing board despite months of turmoil in which top administrators were forced out or left earlier than planned.

On a largely party-line vote, the state House elected on Wednesday a slate of six candidates to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors offered by Republican lawmakers. Five currently are on the 28-member board, which sets policy for the system’s 17 campuses, with 220,000 students. The Senate will elect six board members on Thursday. Five of those seven candidates are current members, too.

Democrats dominated the House debate, saying that five shouldn’t be returned to the board when the UNC system’s image has been tarnished under their watch.

“The current board of governors is doing a terrible job,” said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat. “You’re sending five of the members right back up for some more … I have no confidence in them.”

The board’s composition has shifted to the political right since lawmakers took over the General Assembly in 2011.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings left her job Jan. 1 - barely halfway through her five-year contract - following clashes with board members, many of whom weren’t around when she was hired.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her departure in January the day she said the stone base formerly topped by the statue of a Confederate soldier would be removed. Folt planned to leave in May, but the Board of Governors forced her out Jan. 31. Folt was named the new president of the University of Southern California on Wednesday.

And just this week, a board member blamed Chairman Harry Smith for forcing out East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton after three years on the job. Smith denied directing Staton’s departure.

Republicans on the House floor said very little about the six candidates but defended the biennial election process, which Democrats argued didn’t follow state law. Democrats suggested litigation was possible.

Lawmakers in 2017 approved reducing the board size from 32 seats to 24. They are completing the phase-out by reducing the number of members the House and Senate each appointed two years ago and this year from eight to six. That means not all current members can keep serving on the board.

Of the eight House appointees whose terms expire at the end of June, board member Ann Maxwell didn’t want to run again, according to Rep. John Fraley, a sponsor of the bill containing the candidate slate. Republican Joe Knott and Democrat Walter Davenport were left off the six-member slate. Democrats complained about the absence of Davenport, who is black, from the slate.

“After this vote, there will be a little less diversity on the Board of Governors,” said Rep. Robert Reives, a Chatham County Democrat.

The only new board member on the House slate is Hilton T. Hutchens of Fayetteville.

Current board members re-elected on Wednesday are:

- Pearl Burris-Floyd of Gaston County, a former state House member.

- C. Philip Byers, a former Rutherford County sheriff who is now a charter school advocate.

- James Holmes Jr. of Wake County, managing partner of a risk management company.

- J. Alex Mitchell, a real estate developer from Chatham County.

- David Powers of Wake County, a legislative lobbyist.

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