In 2018 BOG members Darrell Allison and Harry Smith became embroiled in a whistleblower lawsuit involving a North Carolina Central University (NCCU) chancellor. Benjamin Durant, a former vice-chancellor at NCCU, claimed that he was wrongfully terminated after alleging misconduct between Smith, Allison, and interim NCCU chancellor Dr. Johnson Akinleye regarding a backroom development deal. Durant had previously raised concerns about the chancellor’s luxury vehicle and reported that two BOG members, Harry Smith and Darrell Allison, were trying to steer a multimillion-dollar campus housing contract in secret to a company Harry Smith had done business within the past. Durant’s suit alleged that Smith and Allison arranged a meeting with Chancellor Akinleye and Allison suggested that the school work with a private developer. Durant specifically accused Smith and Allison of steering NCCU to a specific firm, the Preiss Company of Raleigh, in what is known as a “public-private partnership.” The contract with Preiss, one of the largest developers of off-campus housing the country, would be valued between $90 and $120 million. Preiss is the “largest owner-operator of off-campus student housing in North Carolina.”
Smith, who had prior deals with Preiss and had already weathered controversy about his real estate dealings, denied the allegations. Instead, he claimed that he was asked to lend expertise with regards to NCCU’s parking, housing, and dining operations by Allison. Allison also denied the allegations. As of 2018 Smith reportedly co-owned off-campus student apartment complexes with the Preiss Company in Greensboro and Georgia.
Allison is an alumnus of NCCU and UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law. A Mooresville native, Allison had previously served as an NC Central Trustee since 2015. He now chairs the Board’s committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions.