The governing board of East Carolina University is plagued with in-fighting, as ethics complaints between warring factions of ECU’s Board of Trustees went before a committee of the UNC Board of Governors on Wednesday.
At the forefront of the fight is a complaint brought to the UNC Board of Governors by ECU Board of Trustees chair Vern Davenport accusing fellow trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore of attempting to interfere in student government elections to tip the balance of power on the board.
The Governance Committee of the UNC Board of Governors met in a special session to consider whether or not to recommend the removal of Lewis and Moore, but adjourned the meeting without a recommendation. The committee was also expected to consider an ethics complaint filed by Moore against Davenport, but Moore rescinded it just before it was set to be heard.
Davenport, Lewis and Moore stood before the UNC Board of Governors committee to field questions about the allegations that Lewis and Moore courted a recent ECU student to run for student body president.
“The unfortunate thing about the situation is that they got caught,” Davenport said.
Moore admitted to meeting with a student in mid-January to encourage her to run for student body president. That office is a voting member of the Board of Trustees, which has been split on recent key votes, including the selection of Davenport as chair.
The student, Shelby Hudson, secretly recorded the meeting in which Lewis and Moore offered to support her in a campaign to unseat the current student body president. Hudson shared the recording with other members of the ECU Board of Trustees. Her attorney confirms she is a family friend of former ECU Trustee Kel Norman, and sought advice from him after trustees Lewis and Moore requested to meet with her.
According to her attorney, Hudson did not return to ECU this spring semester due to the death of a close friend. Moore said he knew Hudson had run for ECU student body president the previous school year, and he believed she was a current student when he requested to meet with her.
Moore told the Board of Governors it was “a fairly common practice” for ECU trustees to support candidates in student government elections in times when the board has been divided, and he was aware of one other trustee pursuing a student candidate in recent weeks.
“Is this the way things are done down there?” asked UNC Board of Governors member Terry Hutchens.
Members of the UNC Board of Governors questioned the ECU trustees, not only on the allegations of interference in student elections, but also on Davenport’s decision to bring his complaint directly to the UNC Board of Governors rather than to the ECU Board of Trustees.
“Why is the board divided? You should all be focused on the same thing — student success,” said Board of Governors member Wendy Murphy.
UNC Board of Governors member and Governance Committee Chair David Powers emphasized ECU’s importance as an economic driver in Eastern North Carolina.
“My beloved East is in trouble. People are moving out in droves, jobs are scarce, rural healthcare issues are deviling our policymakers,” said Powers. “Without a strong East Carolina University, East Carolina dies.”
The full Board of Governors will meet Friday to consider sanctions against Lewis and Moore, including possible removal from their appointed positions on the ECU Board of Trustees.