Controversy over ECU trustees interference with SGA election widens

Published: Jan. 28, 2020 at 2:27 PM EST
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A controversy over two East Carolina University trustees trying to influence a student election widened Thursday with the release of public documents.

WITN obtained a complaint late Thursday from Board of Trustees chair Vern Davenport, vice chair Fielding Miller, and secretary Vince Smith.

It says trustees Phil Lewis and Robbie Moore reached out to an unnamed student, first through Facebook messenger on January 12th, to get them to run for SGA president. That SGA position is a voting member of the ECU Board of Trustees.

The letter says the next day the three met, and apparently that conversation was recorded. A redacted transcript of that recording was given to WITN by the UNC System as part of a public records request.

The BOT leadership claim that Lewis and Moore "intended that the student, if elected, would join them and other Trustees in what they described as a "seven" member majority vote for the purpose of advancing their objectives". One of those was to elect a new chair for the board.

The letter says the two trustees promised "substantial support" for the student's campaign as long as it was kept confidential from other trustees "and the public at large". Financial contributions would be made to the campaign as long as the student was not required to disclose where the money came from, according to the complaint letter.

All of this could be in violation of UNC System policy.

The three trustees have asked the UNC Governance Committee to recommend Lewis and Moore be removed from the BOT.

Days after that letter, Moore fired back and asked that Davenport and Foster be removed from the BOT as well. Moore claims the two forced Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Foster to resign from the university's Board of Visitors back in November over his role in the Dan Gerlach situation.

In a letter to Governance Committee Chair Powers last Friday, both Lewis and Moore say of the meeting with the student "it was with best intentions of furthering the higher interests of the University. In hindsight, and upon further reflection, we now appreciate that the discussions during the meeting may not have been the best approach to governance at ECU."

The two say they regret that this has become another controversy for the university.

The Governance Committee says it plans to meet shortly to publicly discuss all of the allegations and counter-allegations.

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A student government board has called for an investigation into allegations that two East Carolina University trustees tried to influence a student election.

On Saturday, the General Assembly of the UNC Association of Student Governments passed the resolution.

It says on January 18th, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors Committee on University Governance received a letter from the leadership of the ECU Board of Trustees that two of its members encouraged an ECU student to run for student body president, a violation of UNC system policy.

The resolution alleges that trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore offered the student financial support for their potential campaign, and offered their positions to get the student information that could be useful in their campaign. It says any university official found influencing elections "should be promptly removed from their position."

ECU Trustees Chair Vern Davenport said they have referred a "serious matter" to the UNC Board of Governors and "at East Carolina University, we take governance seriously."

Moore told WITN through a statement that he has been made aware of the allegations "and have faith that the University Governance committee of the UNC Board of Governors will gather all relevant information and facts."

There's no word yet from the UNC System about whether it will investigate the allegations.