UNC System pays $15,000 a month to 'strategic advisers'

Politically connected consulting group from the transition team that was in place while UNC picked a new president kept on.

Posted Updated
Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The University of North Carolina System continues to pay $15,000 a month to a politically connected consulting firm that was part of the transition team during the system's 2019-20 presidential search.
Jim Blaine and Ray Martin, who previously worked in Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office, are “strategic advisers providing policy advice and assistant on university matters and working on special projects," according to their contract with the system office.

One of their recent invoices indicates they worked 23 hours for the system in the month of July.

From Martin & Blaine's July, 2021, consulting invoice to the UNC System.
The firm is the last vestige of a team of advisers the system had on contract last year as the UNC Board of Governors worked to replace outgoing Interim President Bill Roper. The News & Observer reported at the time that this cadre of advisers had cost $1 million as of February 2020.
New President Peter Hans was hired in June of last year. Martin's and Blaine's latest contract, released through the state's open records act, runs for a year at $15,000 a month, plus expenses. The contract says it can be extended up to 10 years.

UNC System spokesman Josh Ellis described it as "the only UNC System leadership consultant contract currently in place." He said it's not paid using taxpayer money.

The last two monthly invoices from the firm, provided Friday by the system, list items like "meetings and discussions with board members," "budget research and analysis," and "press background discussions."

Both months list "teaching fellows," a program that gives top students forgivable loans to attend North Carolina universities, provided they agree to teach in state after graduation. The July bill provides an hourly breakdown, indicating the firm did 23 hours of work.

Ellis provided a statement Friday from Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey, who said Blaine was hired under Roper and "has continued as an adviser to the UNC Board of Governors and has been a valued asset to board leadership.”

The firm Martin & Blaine, which calls itself "The Differentiators," has had a range of business and political clients, including Republican 9th District Congressman Dan Bishop and committees that raised money last year to elect General Assembly Republicans. Blaine is Berger's former chief of staff, and Martin once headed the Senate Republican caucus, overseeing fundraising efforts.

Hans' senior staff is a politically connected one. No fewer than three members are former chiefs of staff to General Assembly leaders. That includes Blaine's replacement at one point in Berger's office, Andrew Tripp. A full roster of system office salaries wasn't immediately available from the system Friday afternoon.

Hans also is advised by the body that hired him, the 24-member Board of Governors, which is made up largely of business people, current and former lobbyists and former elected officials.


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