DHHS releases emails on Dianna Lightfoot, Pre-K head who resigned

Dianna Lightfoot, who resigned before taking a job as the head of the state’s early education and child development division, saw media interest in her online commentary as attacks, according to emails released as part of a public records request.

“Just got a call saying someone had found a Tweet where I termed Hillary Clinton butch,” Lightfoot wrote in a Feb. 6 email to Matthew McKillip, a DHHS policy advisor. “Guess they’re really after me.”

That phone call Lightfoot referenced appears to have been from N.C. Policy Watch, which published this post about one of the more controversial comments Lightfoot made online. Lightfoot, who headed a group that questioned the value of early education, was the subject of several media  stories after the Feb. 5 announcement of her hire. She took down her Twitter feed shortly after the press inquiries.

Dianna Lightfoot

Dianna Lightfoot

McKillip, who worked for Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign before joining DHHS, and Lightfoot exchanged several emails about Lightfoot’s appointment by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, both before and after Lightfoot’s position on early education and Twitter posts attracted media attention.

“You may already know that I’ve been appointed DHHS Director of Child Development and Education,” Lightfoot wrote in a Feb. 2 email to McKillip. “Thanks for your help!”

“Yes! Congratulations! I’m glad it’s official!,” McKillip wrote back a few hours later. “Look forward to having you on board!”

The emails were released Monday as part of a Feb. 8 public records request N.C. Policy Watch and several other media organizations made about Lightfoot’s appointment and subsequent resignation.

Lightfoot’s tenure was brief, and she declined her appointment to be the state’s director of the Division of Child Development and Early Education on  just days after Aldona Wos announced she had the job on Feb. 5. Controversial positions Lightfoot took on early education, which she would have overseen in her $110,000-a-year job, as well as comments she made on social media created a firestorm of attention .

Wos has yet to announce a replacement director for the early education division. Deb Cassidy, who headed the department during the Perdue administration, was let go in mid-January.

Lightfoot, of Winston-Salem, had served previously as the director of the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, a small non-profit that emphasizes abstinence programs and took positions criticizing early education, and urging parents, especially mothers, to stay home with their children.

Gov. Pat McCrory told WRAL shortly after her dismissal that he had no input on Lightfoot’s nomination.

“Mistakes were made,” he said in February.

Emails released Monday by DHHS show that McCrory’s staff was caught off-guard when reporters began contacting his office with questions about the new pre-K director’s critical view of early education.

“[D]id HHS announce an appointment I wasn’t aware of?,” McCrory’s deputy communications director Ricky Diaz wrote on Feb 6 to McKillip and Julie Henry, DHHS’ spokeswoman.

DHHS staff continued over the next day to consult Diaz and other McCrory staff about how to handle press inquiries about Lightfoot and her resignation.

The records release show that DHHS and McCrory’s office were not eager to answer reporter’s questions, as seen in this Feb. 7 exchange with WRAL reporter Laura Leslie.

“Thanks Julie. Can you describe the vetting process at DHHS?,” Leslie asks.

Henry forwarded on the reporter’s question to McKillip, the DHHS policy advisor, and Diaz, McCrory’s spokesman, asking “suggestions on response?”

“Stick to statement—no additional response or background,” McKillip responds. “Time to move on.”

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