I told y’all that Silent Sam settlement was shady!

When my column summarizing the scandal-to-date ran in mid-December—about how the UNC Board of Governors let itself get pimped out by the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for $2.5 million in education money plus a participation trophy—there were so many new leaks on a near-daily basis that it seemed inevitable the university would work to end the controversy quickly.

The board had five of its members sign onto a comically inept editorial that ran in major newspapers throughout the state, attempting to justify the mafia-style shakedown. In the process, they confessed that the university had “negotiated” with the SCV for months even though the SCV had no basis to claim ownership of Silent Sam, disclosed that the BOG violated the state Open Meetings Act in considering the settlement, admitted that the BOG violated the UNC Policy Manual in approving it, and revealed for the first time that the BOG had also paid an extra $74,999 to the SCV for “limiting its ability to display flags and banners.”

Remember that. We’ll be coming back to it.

Meanwhile the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law attempted to intervene on behalf of UNC students and employees. BOG chairman Randy Ramsey promptly spazzed out, issuing a press release that was idiotic even in Ramsey-adjusted terms. Then, when the Lawyers Committee motion was scheduled for a hearing, Ripley Rand of the megafirm Womble Bond Dickinson—supposedly defending the university?—said on the record what we already knew was true: “The Board of Governors did not want to win this case.” 

Rand openly acknowledged the collusive nature of the shakedown.

The Committee’s request to intervene was based on that very collusion. Yet Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour denied the motion anyway, before going into a bizarre soliloquy about how “emotional” the case was.

Remember that. We’ll be coming back to it, too.

As public-records requests to the university piled up, and a growing number of reporters started asking questions, UNC did a late-night document dump that included the elusive trust agreement benefiting the SCV. Among its terms: specifically allowing “[r]eal property acquisition and development for the purpose of … a facility for use by the Beneficiary” and all of the attendant expenses for it. In other words, UNC students lost $2,574,999 so neo-Confederates could get a new Klubhouse.

Then things slowed down for the holidays.

Then they really got crazy.

The parent company of The Daily Tar Heel—whose reporters have done Pulitzer-level work uncovering this scandal—sued the BOG for the Open Meetings Act violations. A complaint was filed with the Board of Elections requesting an investigation into the SCV’s illegal PAC. Dozens of UNC alumni asked Judge Baddour to invalidate the settlement, including an affidavit from a former UNC historian who definitively showed it was the university (not the SCV) that always owned the statue.

And the truly grimy underbelly of this sham started to come to light.

Remember Judge Baddour talking about how “emotional” the lawsuit was? Turns out the emotion was because Baddour was caught having extensive ex parte discussions with his friend Ripley Rand and numerous pre-lawsuit meetings with both lawyers—at the law firm where Rand works with Baddour’s brother—all detailed in Baddour’s text messages obtained through a public records request.

And remember that $74,999 payment to the SCV, paid with your tax money? The purpose stated in that BOG editorial was an outright lie: The board gave the money to the SCV because the SCV was broke and needed to pay the United Daughters of the Confederacy to buy the “rights” to the statue. The BOG paid to sue itself, and it was all confirmed by the SCV’s own lawyer in an interview with the DTH.

All of those developments happened because dozens of reporters dug into this scandal to uncover the truth. Contrast that with our political leaders who could actually fix this mess:

The (Republican) BOG members who could intervene to address the procedural problems? Silence.

The (Democratic) attorney general, who could intervene to address the crimes committed in approving the settlement? Silence.

The (Democratic) state auditor, who could investigate the corrupt purpose of that $74,999 payment? Silence.

The (Republican) leaders in the General Assembly, who could direct their minions on the BOG to honor state law rather than hide behind a crooked settlement of a sham lawsuit? Silence.

The pervasive, bipartisan cowardice of our political leadership has been unbecoming for a state whose motto is “to be, rather than to seem.” And as we approach what will soon be the fourth month of revelations about #SilentSham, no one seems likely to grow a spine any time soon.

We deserve better.

T. GREG DOUCETTE is a local attorney, criminal justice reform advocate, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All. He continues to be a pain in the UNC System’s ass. Follow him on Twitter @greg_doucette. For a comprehensive listing of media coverage of #SilentSham, visit SilentSham.com. 

Comment on this column at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

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