Unaccredited, financially ailing, this North Carolina HBCU taps a former mayor to lead it

A former North Carolina town mayor has been tapped to lead the financially ailing Barber-Scotia College, a historically Black college northeast of Charlotte.

The college’s Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Chris V. Rey after a nationwide search, according to a school news release Thursday. Rey served six years as the mayor of Spring Lake, a Fayetteville suburb, ending in 2017.

He succeeds Tracey Flemmings, a 1986 graduate of the HBCU, who led on an interim basis for the past 18 months. He starts July 17.

“I was ecstatic initially. I was very excited because I understand the gravity of the position,” Rey told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s a lot of work and even with the challenges of Barber-Scotia, any institution has a lot of work and I’m very humbled.”

Rey, who says he runs a consulting firm, is a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard and a native of the Virgin Islands. He grew up in Spring Lake. A Democrat, he made an unsuccessful primary bid for a U. S. Senate seat in 2016 against Deborah Ross.

His appointment comes as the 155-year-old HBCU perseveres on a quest to regain its accreditation lost in 2004, while digging out from years of shaky fortunes. As of spring, the school had only four students enrolled who attend online, the Charlotte Observer previously reported. The last commencement was held in 2019. School leadership hatched a five-year plan to bring it back to relevance, guided by three alumnae.

For years, Barber-Scotia has squared off with officials in Concord, where it is based.

In 2017, Concord officials created a task force to partner with the struggling college and craft a revitalization plan. But school leadership and the city often disagreed over what the task force’s goals should be. The city offered funds for an engineering and construction study on the campus buildings, the Observer reported. The task force also started a community survey in 2021 to generate new ideas for the campus.

But city officials say the school leadership resisted or rejected these approaches.

In recent months, city officials accused the school of obstruction and not cooperating with its task force. The City Council dissolved it in March.

Barber-Scotia also has faced issues with the Cabarrus County tax office, caused by the loss of its tax-exempt status. The tax exemption for 14 of the 24 parcels of school-owned land was revoked — and led to a $127,000 new tax bill.

The property is mostly vacant, but has two dorms needing repairs and deemed hazards by the city. The city hired a contractor to demolish the buildings since the college was unable to pay, school leadership said previously. But a $380,000 tab was not sent to the college until 2021, the board said.

Trustees and alumni remain optimistic.

“We are ecstatic to have Mr. Rey join our Barber-Scotia College Community. He will bring great energy, wisdom, professionalism, and the support our campus needs,” Flemmings said in the release.

“I am delighted, excited,” alumni president Pam Day told the Charlotte Observer. “I do believe our newly elected president is going to transform Barber-Scotia and bring us back. He has clearly laid out a plan that includes getting our college accredited, students and changing our reputation.”

Spring Lake mayor

Rey served as Spring Lake mayor from 2011 to 2017. During that time, state officials found Spring Lake reportedly spent nearly $500,000 on purchases that were either questionable or in violation of its own policies, a 2016 state audit found, the News & Observer previously reported.

The previous administration didn’t do a good job of holding departments and people accountable, Rey told the Charlotte Observer.

“I removed the finance director and the other department head resigned and that was it,” Rey said. “Fortunately, that situation, fell in my lap as the mayor of the city, but we cleaned it up and I’m very proud of what we did.”

Rey earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in information systems from Walden University and has a law degree from William & Mary School of Law in Virginia.

During his military career, Rey worked with a special team to stand up the first cyber brigade headquarters for the National Guard, according to his website.

He currently serves as international president of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., one of the nation’s oldest historically black fraternities, founded in 1914.