News

The N.C. Ethics Commission opted Friday to levy fines against 20 people serving on state boards who filed their annual statements of economic interest late.

The forms, which required individuals to divulge the financial interests of themselves and family members living in their home, are supposed to be filed by April 15. The N.C. Ethics Commission, which met on Friday in downtown Raleigh, received more than 6,000 forms this year, which are available via the Internet this year through a searchable database. (Click here to access.)

Among those fined were Atlantic Beach mayor A.B. “Trace” Cooper III; Elbert Richardson, the mayor of Troutman in Iredell County; and Kory Swanson, the president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

No statewide elected officials or lawmakers faced fines.

Cooper and Richardson were both fined $500 each, for delinquent filings of both their economic interest forms as well as a disclosure form for real estate holdings required for those who sit on regional transportation boards. Cooper, who filed his forms on Aug. 6, is a member of the Down East Rural Transportation Planning Organization. Richardson is a member of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization and has yet to file his required ethics forms.

State law also required the ethics commission to refer the cases of Cooper, Richardson and four others on regional transportation boards to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Swanson, the John Locke Foundation president, serves on the state’s Seafood Industrial Park Authority, which requires him to file an annual statement of economic interest. Records with the state ethics show he filed a “no change form” on June 24, more than two months late. He was fined $250.

Others who filed their forms late included members of the environmental management commission, N.C. Medical Board, Board of Opticians and two superior court judges.

The ethics commission opted to waive fines for several people who filed late, but who had contacted the Ethics Commission and explained extenuating circumstances, like illnesses or extensive out-of-the-country travel.

 

News

LaRoque-PCUpdate: 3:22 p.m.,The U.S. Marshals Office released a statement indicating LaRoque has to report to prison by next Tuesday.

Stephen LaRoque has a bit more time before he needs to report to prison.

LaRoque, a former Republican state representative from Kinston, was supposed to head to prison within a month of his July 8 sentencing.

But it appears he’s been given an extension.

The U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh both confirmed the extension Wednesday, but could not divulge details about why the extension was granted and for how long it will last.

The federal Bureau of Prison’s offender lookup lists LaRoque, 51, as “not in BOP custody.”

Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Marshal’s Service issued a statement saying LaRoque will needs to report into prison by next Tuesday, Aug. 18.

From U.S. Marshal Scott Parker:

The U.S. Marshals Service has notified Stephen LaRoque to self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on August 18, 2015. We will not disclose his designated Bureau of Prison location. The BOP Inmate Locator is updated daily and should show his location within 24 hours of his surrender. No other information will be released by the U.S. Marshals Service pertaining to this individual.

U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard Jr. had sentenced LaRoque to two years in prison for stealing $300,000 from a federally-funded non-profit he ran. The federal investigation into LaRoque, who once was a powerful member of the House Republican’s leadership team, stemmed from a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation into LaRoque’s management of the economic development non-profit.

At the July sentencing, Howard told LaRoque he could wait to report to prison when a bed was ready in the federal prison system, which can take a month or so. Howard also said in July that he wouldn’t extend that deadline.

The judge also granted an order since LaRoque’s sentencing that permits LaRoque to serve his two-year sentence at the federal prison in Butner, allowing his wife who has medical issues to travel to see him for visits. The Butner facilities include a medical center, as well as low and medium-security prisons.

Another tarnished North Carolina politician, former House Speaker Jim Black, spent his prison term in Butner and Bernie Madoff, the New York financier who ran an elaborate Ponzi scheme, is a current inmate at Butner’s medium-security facility.

News

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors wrapped up its first meeting Friday with its new slate of members.

Sworn in to join the legislatively-appointed 32-member board this week were:

  • Pearl Burris-Floyd, a former state representative from Gaston County
  • Alex Mitchell, a Durham developer
  • Philip Byers, of Rutherford County, on staff with the charter school group Challenge Foundation
  • Joe Thomas Knott II, a Raleigh attorney
  • Walter Davenport, a Raleigh accountant who previously served on the Board of Governors
  • Thom Goolsby, a former Republican state Senator and Wilmington attorney
  • O. Temple Sloan III, who sold his Raleigh-based family company, General Parts, for $2 billion in 2014
  • William Webb, a former federal magistrate judge, currently an adviser at Shanahan Law Group in Raleigh
  • Michael L. Williford, a Fayetteville attorney

The board is in the midst of selecting a new president for the UNC system, after opting in January to get rid of sitting UNC President Tom Ross. Ross will continue to serve until this coming January.

Board members also heard from several House lawmakers yesterday, who were hopeful state budget negotiations would be worked out sooner rather than later.

“It doesn’t mean we have a deal yet but there is a lot of progress,” said Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican.

House lawmakers also unveiled their version of a bond proposal this week, which included funding for a number of new buildings throughout the UNC system. (Click here to read a previous News & Observer article for more information.)

Missing from Thursday and Friday’s UNC Board of Governor’s meetings was R. Doyle Parrish, a Raleigh hotel executive who was arrested this spring and charged with misdemeanor charge of assaulting a woman in relation to a domestic violence incident that occurred at his home.

Parrish stepped down from the presidential search committee, and wrote in a July 22 letter to the UNC system secretary that he would be out for the August meeting because of “some personal matters which will require a significant amount of time.”

News

Aldona Wos, a wealthy Greensboro physician stepped down from her position as North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Secretary, the second member of Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration to leave in the last week.

McCrory and Wos during Wednesday's resignation announcement

McCrory and Wos during Wednesday’s resignation announcement

McCrory, in tears at times, called her the best secretary the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has ever had, and pointed out the state’s massive Medicaid program reversed trends of significant cost overruns and ended the year with a $130.7 million surplus.

Rick Brajer, who had previously headed medical technology companies, will replace Wos.

Wos is the second member of McCrory’s administration to leave this week. N.C. Department of Transportation’s Tony Tata abruptly left last week, citing the need to spend time with his family and consider what next the steps are in his career.

But while Wos, a wealthy Greensboro physician who was a significant fundraiser during McCrory’s 2012 campaign, was heaped with praise Wednesday, her 32-month tenure at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services was marked with controversy.

The legislature, which is controlled by McCrory’s own Republican Party, has frequently expressed displeasure with DHHS under Wos’ leadership.

She took a $1 a year salary to head the state’s health and human services agency, the largest department in Gov. Pat. McCrory’s administration. A native of Poland, she and her husband, Louis DeJoy, had been generous Republican fundraisers, and she served as a past ambassador to Estonia under President George W. Bush.

The job at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services was the first time she’d managed a large entity, and, with more than 16,000 employee, DHHS is one of the state’s largest.

She was at the agency’s helm during the rocky launches of two major benefits systems, which left tens of thousands of North Carolinians without access to emergency food assistance and delayed payments for months to Medicaid providers around the state.

In 2013, North Carolinians learned North Carolina was the only state in the nation in the course of the federal government shutdown to suspend issuing WIC vouchers, a federally-funded program that provides breastfeeding help and vouchers for formula and nutritious food for at-risk children.

She also opted to give $85,000 salaries given to two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign workers (one of whom is now working for the N.C. GOP) and a sharp increase in personal services contracts, including $228,000 paid over eight months to an employee of her husband’s company.

A Washington consulting firm, Alvarez and Marshal, has gotten nearly $8 million through a contract to run the state’s Medicaid division, duties that were previously performed by state employees.

The major goal of her administration, to bring changes to the state’s Medicaid system, remains unfinished, as the legislature decides whether to move Medicaid administration to its own department and open the massive $14 billion state Medicaid system to the private market.

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News

Robeson County officials settled a complaint with the federal justice department this week, saying it would take steps to improve access for disabled residents to public resources.

The federal agency had found the county had numerous violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which was passed 25 years ago) , leaving those with disabilities unable to access county services and programs as easily as other citizens.

A news release from the U.S. Justice Department about the settlement noted that Robeson County, on North Carolina’s border with South Carolina, has a poverty rate of over 30 percent, and nearly 40 percent of its population identities as Native American, and 25 percent are African-American.

According to the settlement, the county agreed to make changes to buildings and county property so that parking, building entrances, restrooms, service counters and drinking fountains can be accessed by those with physical disabilities. The sheriff’s office will also have to devise a plan so that its deputies and emergency responders can communicate with those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and accommodations will be made at voting sites so that those that use wheelchairs or who are blind or with vision issues can cast votes without hindrances.

The settlement comes the same week the N.C. Auditor’s Office released an audit that found the public school system in Robeson County misused $3 million in Medicaid funds meant for children with special needs.

From an Associated Press article about the audit:

The audit issued Monday says for three fiscal years starting in 2011, the school system did not use about $1 million per year in Medicaid reimbursements to provide services for special-needs students as required.

The school system said in a letter to the auditor’s office that it wasn’t told by state education officials that the money was required to be used for special-needs students. It acknowledges that reimbursement money went to other district needs.

State schools Superintendent June Atkinson said in a letter that education officials will work with Robeson County and districts statewide on how the reimbursements are used.

Click here to read the entire audit.

Robeson County officials settled a complaint with the federal justice department this week, saying it would take steps to improve access for disabled residents to public resources.

The federal agency had found the county had numerous violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which was passed 25 years ago) , leaving those with disabilities unable to access county services and programs as easily as other citizens.

A news release from the U.S. Justice Department about the settlement noted that Robeson County, on North Carolina’s border with South Carolina, has a poverty rate of over 30 percent, and nearly 40 percent of its population identities as Native American, and 25 percent is African-American.

According to the settlement, the county agreed to make changes to buildings and county property so that parking, building entrances, restrooms, service counters and drinking fountains can be accessed by those with physical disabilities. The sheriff’s office will also have to devise a plan so that its deputies and emergency responders can communicate with those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and accommodations will be made at voting sites so that those that use wheelchairs or who are blind or with vision issues can cast votes without hindrances.

The settlement comes the same week the N.C. Auditor’s Office released an audit that found the public school system in Robeson County misused $3 million in Medicaid funds meant for children with special needs.

From an Associated Press article about the audit:

The audit issued Monday says for three fiscal years starting in 2011, the school system did not use about $1 million per year in Medicaid reimbursements to provide services for special-needs students as required.

The school system said in a letter to the auditor’s office that it wasn’t told by state education officials that the money was required to be used for special-needs students. It acknowledges that reimbursement money went to other district needs.

State schools Superintendent June Atkinson said in a letter that education officials will work with Robeson County and districts statewide on how the reimbursements are used.

Click here to read the entire audit.