This morning, WRAL Reporter Travis Fain tweeted:
“Per @BusinessNC this morning, House Majority Leader John Bell going to work with former Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith. So this is a major GOP leader leaving one company (Sentinel) run by a current BOG member to work for a former. #ncga appoints the BOG. #ncpol”
As new developments about virus clusters and stranded students throughout the UNC System break hourly, this seemingly dry news about a legislator’s career change may hardly raise eyebrows. The UNC System is dealing with the aftershocks of dangerous institutional neglect, after all. The UNC Board of Governors’ insistence that all 17 campuses bring students back in-person while threatening “worst-case scenario” budget cuts to the tune of 50% has caused nothing short of turmoil and chaos for students, workers, and faculty on campuses.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader John Bell has decided that this moment seems right for a career change. His latest move to work for a private equity firm run by former BOG Chair Harry Smith is consistent with his record of solidly pro-corporate governance. (Note: Smith contributed $5,200 to John Bell’s committee on June 4, 2019.) According to BusinessNC, Smith’s private equity firm Rise Capital “now controls four eastern North Carolina-based companies involved in air filters, electrical service, CBD products and metal fabrication.” While many households in North Carolina are struggling to figure out how to keep their lights on, the people charged with governance of public goods continue to rake in profit and figure out how to make public goods run more like businesses.
Smith is one of those people. He joined the governing board in 2013, and later chaired the UNC BOG until he resigned twice, with the explanation that he was “really tired.” His chairmanship consisted of perennial scandals involving allegedly forcing out an ECU chancellor and texting and emailing former UNC System President Margaret Spellings “20 times a day.” He frequently grabbed headlines for his business-like approach to governance and interpersonal conflicts with other system leaders. Notably, BOG member James Holmes was reportedly a “key ally” in getting Smith appointed.
Why is this important? James Holmes is the managing partner of Sentinel Risk Advisors. If you follow the money and political connections, Sentinel Risk Advisors’ current and former employees include two powerful North Carolina House Republicans: Rep. David Lewis, chair of the House Rules committee, and Rep. John Bell, House Majority Leader. According to their website, Sentinel Risk Advisors’ core business is “risk mitigation and insurance services,” though their website does not provide much detail about what “risk mitigation” entails. Obviously, their philosophy does not extend to mitigating risk for students and workers during a pandemic, just those whose business interests stand to lose.