PW investigates: Five important stories from 2019

PW investigates: Five important stories from 2019

1) PW exclusive: Experts question business dealings of UNC Board of Governors member

Thom Goolsby has a long history of controversy – as an attorney, a lobbyist and a former North Carolina state Senator.

But when Policy Watch broke this story about Goolsby in September, it wasn’t about fiery public comments over Silent Sam or controversial rhetoric targeting liberal adversaries. It was about an Internet-based business that may violate an agreement Goolsby entered into with the Securities Division of the N.C. Secretary of State’s office in the aftermath of a failed investment business that was accused of mismanagement and deceptive business practices.

From the story:

In a consent order outlining an agreement with the Securities Division of the Secretary of State’s office, Goolsby and his partner were barred from seeking registration as investment advisers, investment adviser representatives, dealers or salesmen for 10 years.

They were also ordered to “desist from engaging in any conduct or practice involving any aspect of the securities or financial services business and from transacting any business as an investment adviser, investment adviser representative, dealer, or salesman in this State.”

Goolsby resigned from the Senate in August of 2014, before finishing his second term. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

But Goolsby, a Wilmington lawyer and lobbyist – and currently an appointed member of the powerful UNC Board of Governors, which sets policy for the 17-campus university system – did not stay away from the investment world for long.

Goolsby registered Charting Wealth, LLC in Las Vegas, Nevada in March of 2015 – just a year after his agreement with the Secretary of State’s office.

Nevada is an attractive locale for startup LLCs as it offers one of the more lax regulatory environments in the country. The formation of single-person corporations is allowed and businesses can be registered very quickly. There are no requirements for operating agreements or annual meetings. There are also no state income, corporate or franchise taxes. It is, along with Texas, one of only two states with no formal information-sharing agreement with the IRS.

Today, Goolsby promotes a “Charting Wealth” website and provides daily market analysis via a YouTube channel. He also sells a self-published book, “Charting Your Way to Wealth: Make Millions in the Market by Learning to Recognize and Follow Stock Trends.”

According to the company’s materials, it teaches investors how financial markets work and ways to recognize and exploit trends.

But Goolsby also solicits donations via the crowd-funding site Patreon, through which he offers paying “patrons” the opportunity to receive “live Monthly Q&A,” “personal monthly training calls” and, for those who contribute a the highest level, a “five-day intensive training.”

The Securities Division in the Secretary of State’s office is aware of the business, said spokesperson Liz Proctor. Asked whether there is an ongoing investigation into Goolsby’s activities, Proctor said it is the office’s policy not to confirm or deny investigations.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

2) Dan Forest to headline Charlotte event featuring controversial religious right speakers

As Lt. Governor, Dan Forest has never been one to shy away from controversy.

But in October, when he appeared as a “special guest” at the American Renewal Project’s “North Carolina Renewal Project” event in Charlotte, he managed to outrage everyone from LGBTQ rights groups to a national Muslim civil rights organization.

From the story:

The roster of speakers for the private conservative Christian event includes:

  • A pastor who calls the notion of a separation between church and state “cowardice” and those in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality “militant homofascists” bent on turning the U.S. into Sodom.
  • An author who has railed against Muslims as would-be conquerors and rapists and LGBTQ rights as a first step to America living under Sharia law.
  • A pastor and Republican politician who has asserted anyone not committed to the U.S. as an explicitly Judeo-Christian nation should leave.

Forest’s office did not return requests for comment on his appearance at the event. But LGBTQ and Islamic rights activists and state lawmakers condemned his participation this week.

“It’s unfortunate to say the least,” said North Carolina Rep. Deb Butler (D-Brunswick). “At a time when we’re here in eastern North Carolina [ahead of Hurricane Dorian] with neighbor helping neighbor irrespective of differences and things like sexual orientation, they’re planning an event that in my point of view is going to incite hatred, fear and otherism.”

Butler, who is a lesbian, said Forest could learn a lesson from the way communities pull together during a weather emergency.

“When those swift water rescue teams come up to your house, they don’t ask what your background is,” Butler said.

Speaker Tim Moore

3) Lawmakers, university officials air out rumors of Tim Moore’s interest in UNC System presidency

As the search for the next president of the UNC system got properly under way this year, a persistent rumor made its way from whispers at UNC and the halls of the General Assembly to the floor of the N.C. House.

Would N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore seek the job?

Moore repeatedly denied it, but slowly ,everyone from state lawmakers to members of the UNC Board of Governors began to make the case for his candidacy. By October, when Policy Watch wrote this story, Moore’s denials were less defintive.

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” Moore said when asked if he would categorically deny any interest in the job. “But thank you for asking.”

From the story:

In the last week, lawmakers and Board of Governors members who were, for months, reluctant to go on record about the prospect of Moore as UNC President have begun to come forward.

On Wednesday, board member David Powers, also a well-connected Republican lobbyist, said Moore would make a good candidate.

“I don’t think there’s one skill set that is perfectly suited to being president of a university system,” Powers said. “There are many different skills, some of which the speaker has in spades. I don’t think there’s a type, if you will.”

Powers said he is not overly concerned about the optics, given that, if Moore were chosen, he would be selected by board members Moore had a role in choosing at the state legislature.

“Of course everybody pays attention to that,” Powers said. “But at the same time, we want the best person we can possibly get. If you look across our system, we have great chancellors who are academics. But we have a heart surgeon at UNC-Pembroke, one of the best in the system. A magazine editor, Lindsay Bierman, just left as chancellor of UNC School of the Arts. We’ve got people from all walks of life.”

“There are some very good examples of politicians being very successful university presidents,” Powers added. “Look at Mitch Daniels at Purdue.”

Daniels is the former Republican governor of Indiana who was elected by Purdue University’s board of trustees  in 2012. As governor, Daniels appointed or reappointed every member of the board that ultimately hired him.

Critics protested the choice, calling it an obvious conflict of interest. The resulting state investigation found that his election did not violate the Indiana Code of Ethics.

Rep. Kelly Hastings (R-Gaston), co-chair of the House standing committee on universities, also said he’d support Moore’s candidacy for president of the UNC system.

“I think he’d be very capable,” Hastings said in an interview with Policy Watch this week. “As I’ve said, he has experience with the public education system, and he has experience with the intricacies of the public education system and their relation to the General Assembly. So objectively, those would be positive assets, in my opinion.”

Moore hasn’t yet said he’s interested in the position, Hastings said, but would make a formidable candidate if he did.

“Varied experiences are important,” Hastings said. “I don’t think there’s any template. He does have public education experience as a graduate of the university system and a former member of the Board of Governors. I think he would definitely have what it takes to do that job.”

But not everyone feels a Moore presidency would be a positive for the university system.

Bob Phillips is executive director of the non-partisan government watchdog group Common Cause NC. He said Moore’s position as one of the most powerful Republicans in the state makes it difficult for the public to be sure a fair selection process would be carried out.

“It certainly invites skepticism that you are getting what you want — a very open, a very fair process that is nothing short of integrity to the highest level,” Phillips said. “It’s just the reality of the power of in this case someone serving in the top spot in one of the chambers. It’s certainly a concern. How does the board his chamber selected make a decision that is going to have public confidence? That’s difficult with a board that has so many connections to the leadership and the legislature.”

The 24-member UNC Board of Governors currently has no Democratic members. There are five members who are politically unaffiliated. The balance of the board is Republican. Five of its members are former GOP legislators. With the election of Holley, six of its members are current or former lobbyists.

“I think all of that is definitely a problem,” Phillips said. “Other boards have rules about lobbyists serving on them. It would seem to me that when you have lobbyists who have business relationships with the legislature, you would want to prevent those conflicts.”

4) After Folt’s exodus, UNC system may face a struggle in finding new leadership, experts say

Margaret Spellings (L) and Chancellor Carol Folt (R)

When Carol Folt stepped down from her position as chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill after tensions with the UNC Board of Governors, it followed Margaret Spellings’ exit under similar circumstances.

In January, when Policy Watch wrote this story, national experts in higher education said the pattern could impact the university system’s ability to find and retain strong, highly qualified leaders. Almost a year later, after several more chancellors at UNC schools have left or been forced to resign, the concerns are no less strong.

From the story:

Years of political controversies and personality conflicts with and among the UNC Board of Governors have led to national headlines, mass protests and a burgeoning identity crisis for the 17-campus UNC system.

Worse, national experts and long-time faculty members say, the politically volatile atmosphere threatens to drive away top candidates for leadership positions at the school, highly regarded academics and the sort of students that have made UNC a world-class university.

“UNC is one of the crown jewels of public education,” said Barmak Nassirian, Director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “It is an amazing institution with so much to be proud of. Under normal circumstances, until fairly recently, to become chancellor or president of the system would be one of the most coveted positions.”

But after years of public squabbles between the school’s leaders and its increasingly conservative and combative board of governors, Nassirian said that view is beginning to change.

“There are seemingly irreconcilable differences between the folks charged with governing the operation and the campus communities and the poor souls charged with running the operation,” Nassirian said. “That makes it a very dangerous mission for anybody to step in. Who would want to leave a workable arrangement to attempt to play Solomon? How do you bridge that gap?  It strains credulity to imagine who would want to step into this except for a partisan for one side.

5) In a tense political climate, UNC students reporting mental health struggles

It was a year of explosive political controversies, mass protests, high-level resignations and leadership changes across the UNC system.

In June, Policy Watch took a look at the cost of that environment to students who are increasingly reporting mental health struggles.

From the story:

In April, a task force summoned by university leaders delivered a report* on student mental health to the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. It detailed significant increases in anxiety and depression among undergraduate and graduate students, a contributing political and social environment on campus,  and understaffed, on-campus mental health services.

While the statistics on increased mental health needs at Chapel Hill follow a national trend, the task force pointed to national, state and campus political environments as destabilizing for UNC students.

Christi Hurt

“Recent campus events and related discourse at Carolina and across the nation have intensified the University’s politically —  and emotionally — charged environment,” the task force concluded. “Challenging topics include the confederate monument known as ‘Silent Sam,’ and related discussions of race and racial disparities throughout the University’s history, and the impact of sexual assault and misconduct. The tense climate on our campus and beyond, and the significant administrative transitions at our own campus and throughout the wider University system, have directly affected the perspectives of students, staff and faculty, as well as shaped the process of creating this report.”

Christi Hurt, UNC-Chapel Hill’s interim vice chancellor for student affairs, helped to produce the report.

“We wanted to acknowledge the time period in which we wrote the report, what was going on on campus,” Hurt said. “It’s a part of the backdrop of the work we did.”