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Tom [insert financial problem here] Fetzer’s pitch on ECU financial management

by Daniel Gilligan

The fallout from the firing of ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach has unveiled the depths of mismanagement and blatant ego on the UNC Board of Governors (BOG). In the most recent twist, an email released by the UNC System shows that lobbyist and BOG member Tom Fetzer’s private investigation into allegations against Gerlach, possibly stem from Fetzer seeking the position for himself. Specifically, prior to Gerlach’s appointment, Fetzer concocted a hackneyed plan that included a transition speech and action plan for the first few weeks of his appointment as interim chancellor.

According to the News & Observer, the email contains bullet points for a speech that included a note to insert an “inspirational quote,” and the outlines of a plan “for restoring ECU’s fiscal health.” The plan consisted of Fetzer committing a total of two hours a day of work in his first week on the job on financial management and student recruitment. Fetzer apparently pitched a half-baked plan to “Rescue ECU” by promising to work two hours a day.

The fact that Fetzer inserted himself and his private lawyer thus derailing a chancellor career should, alone, be cause for deep concern about the governance of the North Carolina University System. In the wake of the Gerlach scandal, there should be thoughtful debate about what kind of leader a large (and recently destabilized) institution like East Carolina University needs and what qualifications that leader should have. However, it is an act of the utmost hubris to consider for a second that lobbyist Fetzer should be put in charge of restoring any institution’s financial health given his long track record of financial mismanagement.

Fetzer’s financial problems are not just personal. Fetzer has had personal tax problems including a tax lien of $22,000 and unpaid taxes on a business. Yet as a campaign operative, Fetzer amassed multiple campaign finance violations stemming from concealing a $94,000 debt. As a political consultant who had been Raleigh Mayor nearly a decade earlier, Fetzer had to have a client co-sign a real estate deal “in the same way that parents of a teen-ager might.”

One would think someone with such a checkered history of mismanaging both their own and other people’s money would have some basic humility around financial matters. Yet just this spring, in a rambling off-the-cuff commencement speech Mr. Fetzer decided to offer sexist financial advice that audience members found insulting and forced the University to distance itself from the speech.

Despite all of the apparent dysfunction on the BOG it is clear why system leaders – seemingly with the blessing of some members of the BOG – released Fetzer’s email. The people of North Carolina must see just who our legislative leaders are selecting to govern one of the country’s premier public education systems. Too often, our university boards are filled with self-interested politicos who are motivated by power and greed rather than public service.