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state Sen. Tom Apodaca

Longtime lobbyist Paula Wolf rounded up how many pies state Sen. Tom Apodaca has his fingers in over on her blog, Paulatics.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican who has been in the Senate for 12 years, is known for his off-the-cuff comments as well as influence in the state legislature.

Wolf, who until recently had worked as a lobbyist representing non-profit groups in the legislature, tallied up Apodaca’s current list of responsibilities.

From her blog:

Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville) serves on 12 of the 23 Senate Standing Committees.

  •  He is the sole Chair of 2: Rules and Ways & Means.
  •  He is a Co-Chair of 3: Appropriations on Education/Higher Education, Insurance & Pensions and Retirement.
  •  He is a regular Member of 7: Appropriations on Base Budget, Appropriations on Justice & Public Safety, Commerce, Education/Higher Education, Finance, Judiciary I and Redistricting.

The daily calendar is under his purview as is the general flow of bills. As Rules Chair, Sen. Apodaca decides in which committee bills will be heard, and if they will be heard. It is also up to him whether a bill is debated on the Floor and what day.

His Committee assignments and his leadership responsibilities cover most of the issues expected to be hot this Session.

When you see Sen. Apodaca’s name in the media the word “powerful” will likely be used as a modifier to “Rules Chair” every time. Indeed, he is.

 

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The UNC Board of Governors convened a summit Tuesday to discuss the future of teaching in the state, as the world of education changes rapidly and the state faces a significant drop in those who want to teach.

The education summit, a public meeting of the UNC Board of Governors held on the SAS campus in Cary and spearheaded by Ann Goodnight, looked at trends in education, as well as methods for the state to reexamine how it prepares new teachers and treats teachers once they’re in classrooms.  Chancellors and education deans across the UNC system attended as well as legislative leaders and State Board of Education members.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The focus Tuesday was on how to prepare and retain the state’s next generation of teachers, as the state contends with a decline of nearly 30 percent in the last four years in enrollments in the UNC system’s 15 education programs. (Click here to read more about the decline, and what it means for the state.)

“We can do better and we must do better,” UNC President Tom Ross said Tuesday in opening the day-long summit.

North Carolina’s teacher pay, even with raises passed by the legislature last year, remain below the national average, and programs that supported the professions like the N.C. Teaching Fellows scholarship program, have been eliminated by state leaders.

As part of the education summit, a subcommittee of the UNC Board of Governor released a seven-point plan Tuesday that had been in the works for a year and attempts to turn around the profession’s high turnover and declining enrollment rates at the UNC system’s education colleges. (Scroll down to read the entire plan.) Read More

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Stephen LaRoque, the former state representative accused of stealing $300,000 from federally-funded non-profits he ran, entered into a plea deal Monday.

LaRoque-PC

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque in 2011.

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, plead guilty to one count of theft of $150,000 from a program receiving federal funds. The remaining 11 counts he faced will be dismissed, according to the court docket.

LaRoque also agreed to pay back $300,000 in restitution to the non-profit he once led, the East Carolina Development Corporation, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The plea was offered Monday at the federal courthouse in Greenville. No prior announcement of the hearing was made on the docket for LaRoque’s case.

LaRoque, a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, resigned from the legislature in July of 2012, shortly after he was indicted on the federal charges.

His sentencing will be on May 12, at the federal courthouse in Greenville before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard.

The charge LaRoque plead guilty to holds a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison. He could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

LaRoque had been scheduled to go to trial next week, after convictions a jury handed down in a 2013 trial were set aside because of juror misconduct.

The federal investigation into LaRoque began shortly after a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation that found improprieties in his management of two economic development non-profits that received millions through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural lending program. The non-profit’s board of directors, which approved generous pay packages for LaRoque, consisted of himself, his wife and brother for several years.

His indictment on federal charges accused him of taking more than $300,000 from the non-profit to buy, amongst other things, a Greenville ice skating rink, replica Faberge eggs, jewelry and cars for his personal use.

Up until Monday, LaRoque had maintained he was innocent of criminal wrongdoing, and that the money he was accused of stealing was owed to him.

Shortly after his indictment, he said he wanted to seek revenge and “make heads roll” at USDA if he managed to get a political appointment heading the state office of the agency he was accused of stealing from.

This post has been changed from the original to correct the maximum fine LaRoque could face, up to $250,000. The post may be updated as further information about Monday’s plea deal is made available.

News

Gov. Pat McCrory was on hand Thursday for a ribbon cutting for the state’s newly privatized economic development group, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

The group, funded primarily with more than $16 million in public dollars and $500,000 in private dollars serves as the state’s “marketing and sales” with the task of luring both visitors and companies to the state.

“Now is no time to rest on our laurels,” McCrory said Thursday, saying the state needed to continue a push to bring in new jobs and businesses to the state.

Setting up the public-private partnership was a big piece of the economic agenda McCrory set when he took office two years ago. The privatized set-up has shown mixed results in other states that have adopted the models, and critics point to scandals and accusations of harboring a pay-to-play culture that have emerged in other states like Ohio and Indiana.

McCroryecondevOn Thursday, McCrory told the small crowd that taking those functions out of state government allowed his administration to be more “nimble and quick” in economic development work.

Joining McCrory at the ribbon cutting was Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, McCrory’s new Commerce Secretary, John Skvarla and Christopher Chung, the recently hired CEO of the public-private partnership.

Chung, the new CEO of the economic development group who began his work in North Carolina earlier this month.

Chung came to the state from Missouri, where he helped start up and lead that state’s public-private economic development partnership in 2007. He replaces Richard “Dick” Lindenmuth, a businessman who had been hired a year earlier by McCrory and will remain working for the partnership on a contract basis.

McCrory said his staff is working with Republican legislative leaders in crafting a new proposal dubbed N.C. Compete, though McCrory declined to offer any specifics about the policy plan.

The board of the Economic Development Partnership will also meet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the group’s headquarters, 15000 Weston Parkway in Cary.

News

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors pushed out the head of the state’s university system on Friday, sparking a search for a new leader of the 17-campus system.

Tom Ross, who had served as president since 2011, will remain in the president’s role until January 2016, while a national search is underway for his successor.

tom-ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Precise reasons for his announced departure weren’t articulated Friday, other than statements from UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque about the board’s general desire for a transition to a new leader.

The UNC Board of Governors met for close to two hours in closed session before announcing the changes.

“The board felt like at the appropriate time there should be a transition to a new president,” Fennebresque said, in comments to reporters.

Fennebresque also disputed media reports that Ross’ age was a factor. Ross is 64, and prior UNC system presidents had left their positions at 65. Ross said he was interested in working past that, and had hoped to continue in the job leading the public university system.

“I love it and I would love to be here forever,” Ross said.

Ross’ new terms of employment with the university system includes a salary of $600,000 for the next year, a tenured position at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government and $300,000 for a year to conduct research following his expected 2016 departure from the president’s office.

Conversations about Ross’ termination only began this week, Ross said, and he wasn’t made aware of any single event or issue that turned the Board of Governors against him.

Fennebresque went to lengths at a press conference with reporters to emphasize that Ross had been a strong leader that had the support of the board of governors, despite Friday’s announcement that the board wanted to part ways.

“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president,” Fennebresque told reporters Friday after the announcement about Ross. “Fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity.”

Ross’ departure was announced Friday after months of speculation about his future after his relationship with the UNC Board of Governors became more fraught.

Ross came to the UNC system after serving as the president of the private Davidson College. He previously had worked as a judge, the head of the state’s administrative office for the courts, and the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem based group that funds several progressive nonprofits in the state. (Note: the N.C. Justice Center, which N.C. Policy Watch is a part of, receives annual funding from ZSR.)

He led the university through a period of rapid change, and significant budget cuts. The university system received more than $400 million worth of cuts in 2011,

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