BOG gets even murkier with House (re)appointments

Today, the NCGA will move forward with a vote on six nominees to the University of North Carolina System’s Board of Governors. Five of the six names are re-appointments. Hilton Hutchens, the new white Republican nominee, would replace the lone Black Democrat on the Board. The process includes and up-or-down vote on a resolution that would name members to the board. This process differs from an election from a larger number of candidates. The up-or-down vote gives Republican leadership closer control of the nominees.

 The list below includes two Republican lobbyists, a former disgraced sheriff-turned-charter school activist, a lawyer and Republican donor, a major Republican donor and former employer of a House leader, and a controversial developer who had his project saved by the speaker of the house despite objections from the city of Durham.

 Rev. Pearl Burris-Floyd is the current BOG Secretary and was appointed in May of 2018. She is a registered lobbyist for Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce, former Gaston County Commissioner (first African-American member), and former state Representative who ran for N.C. House District 110 in 2008. She is a registered Republican and has donated $820 to Republican candidates including Pat McCrory and Dan Forest. She has gone on record to say N.C. hate crimes law should include protections for LGBTQ people and cast the only dissenting vote while on the Gaston county commission against a resolution that would have cut services for "illegal immigrants." Burris-Floyd noted that the wording of the resolution was "extremely punitive and harsh" but did say "I agree that we have an undocumented (resident) problem in this country." While on the Gaston County Commissioners, Burris-Floyd voiced concern over the placement of naming a plaza after Dr. Martin Luther King because the area contained a confederate monument and she voiced opposition to racial profiling of undocumented immigrants in 2006. Burris-Floyd did sponsor a "Collect DNA on arrest" bill with Thom Tillis during her time in the legislature. 

 Philip Byers was appointed to the Board of Governors in 2015. He served as Rutherford County Sheriff for a year before losing reelection in 2006. In a 2008 trial in U.S. District Court, testimony and evidence connected Byers to bribes received from video poker machine operator Jeffrey Childers to avoid prosecution for shooting a man, as well as bribes to operate illegal video poker machines once Byers became Sheriff. Byers denied taking money. After an audit by a retired SBI agent, more than 700 cases from Philip Byers’ tenure as Sheriff were found in boxes, which resulted in a revision of 2006 county crime statistics and a total loss of more than $200,000 for those affected by the incidents. Sheriff Jack Conner said, “the boxes of reports give the impression that cases that were considered not solvable for lack of evidence were placed in the boxes and not recorded in to the system.” Such a practice would provide a lower crime count total than actually existed. After his law enforcement career, C. Philip Byers became Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy and Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Community Education Foundation, a public charter school in Rutherford County tied to retired Oregon business executive John Bryan, a significant funder of the conservative school choice movement. John Bryan has used his $37 million family trust, the Challenge Foundation, for conservative causes like challenging global warming research and expanding charter schools across the country. C. Philip Byers gave $4,100 to Tim Moore between 2010 and 2013 and was appointed to the UNC Board of Governors by the House in 2015. Byers has also contributed at least $2,800 to Pat McCrory, $1,000 to Dan Forest, and $450 to David Lewis.

Hilton (Terry) Hutchens is a lawyer and major Republican fundraiser from Fayetteville. He is a managing partner at the law firm Hutchens, Senator & Britten that employs more than 250 attorneys and staff and has offices in Fayetteville, Charlotte and Wilmington. Hutchens and his wife Rosalind have hosted Republican fundraisers at their Fayetteville home and Hutchens has contributed over $9,000 to Republican candidates, including donations to judicial candidates and Pat McCrory. Hutchens, a donor and fundraiser, reported raising $61,000 from donors for Republicans who ran for office in 2014. McCrory then appointed Hutchens to multiple state boards. A loophole in the state ethics law allowed for McCrory to appoint a Republican fundraiser to a state board and keep the public from seeing how much he helped McCrory collect from campaign donors. Hutchens remains a prominent Republican in Fayetteville who credits state senator Wesley Meredith with helping him find money for road projects in southeastern North Carolina. He previously served on the Fayetteville Technical Community College Board of Trustees. Notably, Hutchens was the lawyer for Bladen County’s sheriff who, along with Mark Harris, became embroiled in national scandal for ballot fraud in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. He is on the board of advisors for the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center in Fayetteville.

James Holmes Jr. is the registered agent and managing partner of Sentinel Risk Advisors and has several connections to Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly. In 2013, the House voted to put Holmes on the UNC Board of Governors, and in 2015, the House reelected Holmes to the UNC Board of Governors where he will once again be up for reelection in 2019. David Lewis, Holmes’ former employee, will have the opportunity to vote on Holmes’ reelection to the UNC Board of Governors. Holmes was chairman of the Board of Governors’ public affairs committee and represented the Board of Governors at the legislature in 2015 during budget negotiations. Holmes has donated at least $102,393 to Republicans in the NCGA, including Tim Moore, Phil Berger, Nelson Dollar, David Lewis, and John Bell. According to their website, Sentinel Risk Advisors core business is “risk mitigation and insurance services” though their website does not provide much detail about what this entails. On their blog, they shared a presentation called “#NotYouToo -- Safeguarding Your Business and Employees from Sexual Harassment.” Holmes chaired the committee on the UNC Board of Governors that recommended cutting three UNC System centers, including the poverty center at UNC-CH, a move that was called “politically motivated.” Holmes stepped down as chairman after being accused of meddling in the search for a new president. Holmes is also on the board of advisors for the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

 David Powers is the former chief lobbyist for Reynolds Tobacco who now lobbies on behalf of large health care and insurance companies including Anthem, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC. He also lobbies on behalf of controversial online sports betting companies DraftKings and FanDuel and continues to lobby for Reynolds American. Powers has contributed significantly to prominent NC Republicans including $13,100 to Phil Berger and $2,500 to his son, Phil Berger Jr. He contributed $8,100 to House Speaker Tim Moore and an additional $5,750 to current members of House leadership, $3,500 of which went to John Bell. Powers also gave $16,000 to Former Gov. Pat McCrory and $8,100 to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Not including Phil Berger, Jr, Powers has contributed $12,000 to state judicial candidates, which is not surprising given the controversially unregulated nature of some of his lobbying clients. 

Alex Mitchell is the president of Southern Durham Development, the controversial developer behind the 751 South project built on land he bought from his cousin. House Speaker Tim Moore saved Mitchell’s project from failure when he pushed legislation to override the City of Durham’s objections to the 751 South project, saving it from failure and forcing the city to provide water and sewer services to an upscale residential community. Mitchell and his wife, Drewry Mitchell, contributed a total $30,300 to Moore over this period, each contributing $12,600 to Moore between 2013 and 2016. Mitchell has contributed a total of $30,400 to state House and Senate leaders including Moore, Phil Berger, John Bell, and David Lewis, with most contributions falling in 2016 and 2017. Not surprisingly, he’s also contributed $9,000 to Durham-specific candidates and groups including Farad Ali, The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and Floyd McKissick. Mitchell’s pattern of opportunistic political giving extends back to years of Democratic control and includes contributions to Bev Perdue and Marc Basnight that match his voting history. Mitchell is registered unaffiliated and voted in Democratic primaries until 2010.