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ECU trustees battle over chair


East Carolina University trustee Angela Moss expresses concern about allowing board members to vote via telephone. Moss lost the election for chairwoman by one vote. Trustee Jim Segrave is seated beside her.


Ginger Livingston

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A member of ECU’s Board of Trustees cast the deciding vote for a new chairman on Friday after a nominee tried to block her from participating via telephone, forcing her to travel to campus to attend the session.

The vote ended with Vern Davenport being elected in a 7-6 vote over Angela Moss, a newly appointed member to the board. The vote breakdown saw the five new members who were sworn in Friday voting for Moss. They were joined by Jason Poole, who was appointed to the board in 2017.

New trustee Robert Moore nominated Moss, saying her election would be historic because she would be the first woman to lead the trustees in East Carolina University’s history. New members also said she would help bring needed transparency to the board.

Trustees who voted for Davenport all were returning members, along with new Student Government Association President Colin Johnson.

Moss, who served on the board when she was SGA president in the late 1990s, said she didn’t think board member Leigh Fanning should vote because she was participating via telephone. Moss said that the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors doesn’t allow members to vote via telephone.

ECU Attorney Donna Payne said that trustees historically have allowed members to participate and vote via telephone. The trustees’ bylaws do not specifically state telephone votes are allowed, Moss said, so the board should rely on Roberts Rules of Order, which requires voting members to be present.

“This is how we’ve been doing it the six years I’ve been on the board,” board member Max Joyner Jr. said.

“If it has not been done the correct way, that is not an argument to go forward,” Moss said.

“Thirteen members are represented here today,” Joyner said. “I think all 13 members should vote.”

The board recessed so Payne could do further research.

During that period Fanning, who is a Greenville resident, arrived at the meeting.

Davenport voted for himself, along with Fanning, Joyner and trustees Fielding Miller, Bob Plybon, Vince Smith and SGA president Johnson.

Moss voted for herself along with Tom Furr, Phil Lewis, Robert Moore, Poole and Jim Segrave.

The board unanimously approved Fielding Miller as vice chairman and Vince Smith as secretary.

Fanning left intermediately after the vote, declining an interview. Moss also declined to comment.

Moore, who nominated Moss, said after the meeting he thought she would be “a perfect bridge from the old to the new” and would be a great leader because of the numerous boards she has served on since graduating in the late 1990s.

Since women make up the majority of ECU’s student body, “we think it’s time to have a female chair, a female leader,” said Lewis. “She’s just a great person and a great ambassador for ECU.”

Lewis said in a post meeting interview that there has been “rhetoric” from both sides concerning the trustees’ decisions and leadership over the last several years.

Moore said Davenport is a qualified leader but people are going to see a different day at the university.

“The new folks will have a lot of say-so in the operations of the university moving forward,” Moore said.

“We want a united board but we are passionate about ECU and we felt like she was the person to lead us,” Lewis said.

The main thing new members want is transparency.

“There needs to be more debate on things going forward than the previous board had,” Lewis said.

“It was typically a very small group that made most of the decisions, and this time we want the entire team to have input on decisions going forward,” Moore said.

“We want to make sure all 13 members get all the information so they can make the best decisions,” Lewis said.

Lewis referred to a January statement issued by former trustee Mark Copeland that crucial information was not being shared with all ECU trustees.

Following Friday’s vote, Davenport said the debate showed the trustees are very passionate about the university.

“I applaud that and we encourage that and you saw it exhibited in a very professional form this morning. I think that’s terrific,” Davenport said. “This board is a team. As chairman my goal is to serve each one of you. We have a ton of work to do and it was take all of our collective energies and our efforts to be successful.

“Hopefully this board will have all kinds of vigorous debates and those vigorous debates will end up with a decision and those decisions will be supported in a unified way by this board,” he said.

Davenport said he wants to be chairman because he wants the university the make sure that in a changing health care market, the Brody School of Medicine can grow and it can enhance its partnership with Vidant Health.

“Getting that right, for me, is a very important issue for this university. It’s a very important issue for this town, it’s a very important issue for eastern North Carolina, it’s a very important issue for North Carolina. Getting that right is probably the number one reason I wanted to be chair,” he said.

When asked about the concerns Moore and Lewis expressed about transparency among board members, Davenport said he is a different leader. The best way to bring about unification is to have representation of all members in the leadership of the board’s various committees.

Davenport said his challenge is to match the board members to the committees that will best be served by their passions.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.