The state paid N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos’ former chief of staff more than $37,000 in a settlement after working only a month at the state agency, according to public records.
Thomas L. Adams, of Southern Pines, served as Wos’ chief of staff for the month of March before leaving for what the agency described as personal reasons.
Adams, now listed as a lobbyist for the N.C. Captive Insurance Association, could not immediately be reached Friday afternoon for comment. Calls to DHHS’ communications office and an attempt to reach Gov. Pat McCrory’s office for comment were also unsuccessful.
The $37,227.35 settlement was approved by state budget director Art Pope, according to a July 29 letter from Wos to Pope that includes the signatures of both. The settlement monies were in addition to pay that Adams received for his month of work at the $155,000-a-year job.
“OK to process,” Pope wrote on the letter.
Wos’ letter  was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch through a public records request filed with the Office of the State Controller, which handles the state’s financial transactions.
DHHS did not respond to a Sept. 12 public records request filed by N.C. Policy Watch asking for a copy of the settlement agreement and any other documents related to compensation paid out to Adams until after this article was initially published Friday afternoon.
A six-page agreement titled a “severance agreement” between Adams and Wos stated that the money was paid because Adams had expected six months of employment and “Adams and the DHHS mutually desire to end the Employment Relationship.”
The state’s public records law  requires that any settlements made on behalf of public agencies be made available for public inspection.
In the July 29 letter, Wos states that Adams was not being paid severance, but offers no other explanation about the reasons for the settlement. But the payout was referred to as a “severance agreement” in the April 1 agreement signed by both Wos and Adams.
“In exchange for Mr. Adams’ agreement to waive all appeal rights and release the Department and its officials and employees from any liability or responsibility, the Department agreed to pay Mr. Adams the total sum of $37,227.35, less applicable taxes and other require withholdings,” Wos wrote in the letter to Pope. “This payment is not considered ‘severance.’”
Adams was hired on as what is known as an “exempt” position in state government, meaning that the position is not subject to the State Personnel Act.
Individuals in exempt positions typically don’t collect severance or other types of compensation when a job ends, said Tom Harris, an attorney with State Employees Association of North Carolina.
Harris questioned the size of the settlement for such a short-term employee working in an exempt position.
“It looks suspicious,” Harris said.
Adams joined DHHS on March 1, and his job announcement in a March agency newsletter said he had extensive high level management experience in state and national professional associations including the Medical Group Management Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Records at the N.C. Secretary of State’s office show that before and after his month-long employment at DHHS, Adams was a lobbyist and director of the N.C. Captive Insurance Association, which successfully worked to pass legislation this year allowing the business-oriented insurance to be offered in North Carolina.
Adams’ bonus pay comes as the state agency and Wos have faced fierce criticism over the relevant work experience and amounts paid to several members of Wos’ leadership team. In mid-August, N.C. Policy Watch reported that two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign staffers took top positions at DHHS, a 17,000-employee agency that manages the state’s Medicaid system. Matt McKillip makes $87,500 as Wos’ senior policy adviser and Ricky Diaz makes $85,000 as her communications director. The New & Observer reported in early September  that Joe Hauck, an executive at the company owned by Wos’ husband, has been $228,000 in eight months working as Wos’ at the state agency.
Note: This article has been updated from its original to reflect that DHHS released a copy of the settlement agreement after N.C. Policy Watch reported the $37,227 settlement.
Questions? Comments? You can reach reporter Sarah Ovaska at (919) 861-1463 or firstname.lastname@example.org .