When the Republicans legislators announced the results of an “independent” investigation into the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it was the second such investigation in recent weeks. Over at the Board of Governors, Board member Tom Fetzer, probably with support of some of his cronies, launched an independent investigation into the interim ECU chancellor’s night on the town. That investigation ended in the resignation of Dan Gerlach. It was a loss for the school and added to more instability to the university system. 

These investigations that are outside the scope of government oversight committees or agencies are troubling. The investigators hired by the Republicans knew who paid their contract and they knew what results the GOP wanted. When they released their final report, it found nothing concrete and said nobody profited personally, but left vague accusations that something might have been “improper.” Instead of resolving anything, the “independent” investigation just drags out the vague accusations Republicans have been making for almost three years. It was exactly what the Republicans wanted.

In the ECU investigation, Tom Fetzer’s partisanship was the driving force. He saw an opportunity to end the career of a man whose biggest sin is that he served Democrats. Fetzer clearly put partisanship above the best interest of the UNC system. His private investigator knew that his task was to get dirt on the chancellor. Fetzer and his goons used the information to take Gerlach out and they continued the uncertainty that has plagued UNC since the Republicans politicized the board. 

The independent investigations are anything but independent. They are partisan. Their goals are to hurt one side and the people conducting them know that. It’s disappointing to see the McClatchy papers give credence to such a misguided practice. Fortunately, new UNC Board Chair Randy Ramsey blasted Fetzer for his shenanigans and threatened disciplinary action against him. Let’s hope Ramsey will start to right the ship over at the BOG. The newspapers should have similarly condemned the partisan, extra-governmental investigation of the Republican legislators.  

These investigations start a rotten precedent. Are Democrats going to start hiring private investigators to look into the Tim Moore and his shady dealings? If so, will the News & Observer condemn Republicans who don’t cooperate? And aren’t these investigations undermining the Ethics Commission and State Board of Investigation, agencies charged with overseeing corruption?

Already, Dan Forest is grandstanding and calling for an FBI investigation into the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It won’t happen, but the newspapers put it front and center, giving more evidence of their “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” mentality. In politics, when there’s smoke, it’s more often just that—a smokescreen. 


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