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Originally published: 2013-12-26 17:33:33
Last modified: 2013-12-26 19:09:13

ASU approves candidate petitions post-election

by Anna Oakes

Although university leaders previously said the paperwork was not required, the Appalachian State University Board of Trustees approved political activity petitions for two professors earlier this month.

The petitions were submitted by Rennie Brantz, a three-quarter-time professor recently elected to a third term on the Boone Town Council, and Andrew William Ferguson, who indicated Nov. 25 that he would apply for appointment to a vacated seat on the Alexander County Board of Commissioners.

UNC Policy Manual 300.5.1 establishes requirements for faculty and other employees exempt from the State Personnel Act, with differing requirements for those seeking part-time offices "for which compensation is more than nominal" and part-time offices "for which compensation is only nominal."

For offices with "more than nominal" compensation, employees are required to file a petition demonstrating that the campaign and office would not interfere with their university responsibilities -- or resign or take a leave of absence. The petitions are to be filed no later than July 1 for November elections, according to ASU's human resources office. For offices with "nominal" compensation, the university simply requires that a written statement be filed with the employee's immediate supervisor.

A local blog raised questions about the policy this fall following news that N.C. A&T University suspended an adjunct professor for not filing a petition prior to announcing his candidacy for the Greensboro City Council.

ASU spokesman Hank Foreman said Nov. 5 that the university had determined Brantz's compensation as a town council member would be nominal and that a petition was not required.

But the UNC Policy Manual includes a definition of "compensation which is more than nominal": "Compensation which is more than nominal" means compensation over and above (1) payments in the nature of reimbursements for expenses incurred by the office holder incident to holding office (whether calculated on an average per diem basis or on an actual-expense basis) plus (2) the amount of per diem compensation prescribed by N.C.G.S. 138-5(a)(1) (currently established to be $15 per diem)."

If Brantz counted every day of the year as a day of service, the annual per diem compensation would be $5,475. At $6,251 per year (which does not include expense reimbursement, town staff confirmed), the Boone Town Council salary would be greater than the "nominal" amount, under the definition -- unless expense reimbursements combined with the "per diem" amount exceeded $6,251.

ASU did not respond to requests sent Nov. 7 and 18 for the university's view of Boone Town Council compensation under the UNC Policy Manual definition. Asked whether Brantz should have filed a petition under the UNC Policy Manual, UNC system spokeswoman Joni Worthington said Nov. 21 that "the determination of whether compensation was 'more than nominal' would be made by the campus based on the specific facts and circumstances."

Brantz said on Thursday that ASU leaders contacted him on Nov. 22 asking him to submit a petition. 

"I don't know what all the reasoning was," Brantz said. "I did it as quickly as I could. I wanted to get that cleared up -- we've got a lot of other issues that we need to deal with."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Brantz was asked to submit a petition prior to the election, but Brantz later indicated it was Nov. 22.