After almost a year of Sam-less news, documents revealed today that settle a lawsuit between The Daily Tar Heel and the UNC System Board of Governors show that the two-part, $2.6 million settlements between board members and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) were made with no actual involvement from the five governors tasked with creating a retirement package for Silent Sam.

The settlement revealed that four people—SCV attorney Boyd Sturges, UNC System attorneys Ripley Rand and Tom Shanahan, and Clayton Somers, UNC-Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor of public affairs—were the ones behind the settlements. Jim Holmes, one of the members of the governors’ committee to find a solution for Sam, initially asked Somers to participate. 

Somers knew Sturges personally before they began talks, presumably from attending Wake Forest University School of Law at the same time. Somers also has ties to Republican lawmakers: he was N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s top aide from 2015 to 2017.

If you’ve forgotten all about the monument to white supremacy that protestors toppled in 2018, here’s a sorta-quick run-down: a few months after Silent Sam ate dirt, UNC-Chapel Hill tried to allot millions of dollars to put the Confederate monument in a museum; the Board of Governors voted down the idea, and appointed five members to help UNC come up with something better. In November 2019, news broke of a settlement between the UNC System and the neo-Confederate SCV, which—rightfully—made a lot of people mad.

In the aftermath, the five governors ostensibly involved in brokering the deal penned an op-ed in the News & Observer, where a second settlement came to light that was $1 short of requiring approval from the state attorney general, Democrat Josh Stein, which—again, rightfully—made a lot of people mad. The Daily Tar Heel‘s parent company sued the board over the shady deals. In early 2020, the largest settlement was vacated; the other wasn’t, and the SCV ended up keeping around $82,000 because of its legal expenses.

The February 1 documents reveal that the Board of Governors actually didn’t violate any open meetings laws, because no member of the Board of Governors was involved in crafting the deal. Testimony reported by The Daily Tar Heel revealed that the five governors who “penned” the op-ed didn’t actually write it—UNC System Vice President for Communications Earl Whipple did, and then sent it to the others to sign. The DTH’s lawyers argue that this misled the public, and made the deal look more vetted than it actually was.

So, the UNC System didn’t technically break the law, since no public officials appear to have been involved in the settlements.

Given the abject awfulness of the settlement terms, it really begs the question of why not.

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