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ITony Tata 2t is increasingly clear that a) North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata is a part-time Secretary who receives full-time pay ($136,000 per year) and b) Gov. Pat McCrory doesn’t give a darn.

How else to explain the Secretary’s ongoing second and third jobs as a novelist and Fox News Commentator on military issues and the silent acquiescence from the mansion?

Today — a day on which large swaths of the state are paralyzed by an unexpected snowstorm, thousands of public employees can’t get to work and numerous Department of Transportation crews are, presumably, working feverishly to clear our roads — the DOT Secretary will be…speaking in Chicago at Pritzker Military Museum & Library to plug his new “thriller” novel.

We’re not making this up. A call to the Pritzker Museum a few minutes ago confirmed  that Tata’s talk for this evening (800 miles from home) is on.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory plods cheerfully along — content, apparently, to let one of his most important department heads mail it in and play the role of prima donna media figure on the public dime.

One can only imagine the wild bleats and gesticulations that would have emanated from Right Wing Avenue had a Perdue administration official somehow produced a book on, say, child rearing or healthful living while in office and then gone on Oprah to plug it. When it comes to Tata, however, the only thing one hears from those erstwhile crusaders against government waste, fraud and abuse is the sound of crickets chirping.

Commentary

Tony Tata 2One would have to think that some state officials are having second thoughts this morning about laying off 500 or so Department of Transportation employees as the state Senate proposed last week. As one look out the window will remind all of us, these are the kinds of days on which it’s hard to have too many dedicated public employees keeping our highways and byways clear and drivers safe.

That said, one must wonder just how engaged state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata is in the discussion of the issue. Last night, as the brunt of the winter storm was blasting North Carolina, the Secretary was right where you’d expect him to be: plugging his latest novel and offering foreign policy advice on Fox News. He (or his publicist — it’s never clear who is on the account at any time) was even tweeting about it last night while DOT road crews were out there risking life and limb for their fellow citizens.

The bottom line: Let’s hope North Carolina’s DOT workers all have a productive and safe day out there today serving their fellow citizens. And if state leaders are really serious about doing away with redundant and/or less productive employees in the giant department, they might do well take a close look at one particular employee who is taking home $136,000 in taxpayer bucks each year even as his attention is frequently focused on matters quite unrelated to his job.

Commentary

Tony Tata 2It appears that North Carolina’s Transportation Secretary is really fired up and ready to battle over the state Senate’s plan to lay off 5% of his workforce as part of it’s rather odd “cut the rate first/raise it later” gas tax plan. How else to explain his decision to spend the evening immediately after the first Senate vote on the matter…er uh…going on Fox News to attack President Obama over his foreign policy?

And the passion for defending his agency just keeps on coming. Today at lunchtime, the Secretary tweeted (or maybe it was his publicist) the following semi-offensive plug for his “Hannity” appearance:

“The President needs to stop waging war on American values and immediately declare total war with ISIS….

Finally, on Tuesday February 24, when we’re guessing there might still be a few DOT-related matters happening in the state, our $136,000-per-year public servant will be…plugging his latest novel at  at an event in Chicago.

Good to see that the Secretary has his priorities in order.

Commentary

Charlotte light rail.jpgThere are too many details to be fleshed out and examined to provide a definitive assessment of Governor McCrory’s new proposed state transportation plan that he unveiled yesterday.  For instance, the summary talks about expanding mass transit and building new light rail — both encouraging signs — but it’s too early to say whether these ideas are just polite nods in that direction or real signals of an intention to move away from paving the entire state, one new interstate lane at a time.

One thing that can be said for certain at first blush however is this: It’s encouraging to see the Governor talking optimistically about public investments for the common good. After almost nothing but right-wing bluster about slashing public structures (and the spending that supports them) in education, health care, environmental protection and several other important areas, it’s nice to hear the McCrroy administration at least admitting that public institutions and new investments have an important role to play in the state’s future.

Of course, the idea of investing in roads has always been the one area in which most conservatives have made an exception to their rules about the supposed evils of government.  So, it seems quite possible that the new DOT plan could just be a brief interlude in the ongoing assault on all things public. We’ll know more in the days ahead as the plan gets spelled out in more detail, but until then, we’ll try to maintain a little hope that, with the General Assembly out of town and Art Pope out of the budget office, McCrory has, at least temporarily, morphed back into his civic-boosting mayoral persona of old.

Uncategorized

Taxpayers spent more than $80,000 swapping out cubicles in the state transportation department last spring, just a few weeks after Gov. Pat McCrory called on agency leaders to tighten their fiscal belts.

The $82,996.36 cubicle renovation project for 23 work stations approved last May dropped the height of  most of the cubicles by 10 inches, and created more of a “newsroom” atmosphere for communications staff to work in, according to purchase records and Mike Charbonneau,  DOT’s communications director.

“This has been a big help for us,” Charbonneu said, saying that the previous cubicles were mismatched in size, with a handful reaching to the ceiling, creating a confusing maze of hallways and workspace in the agency’s headquarters across from the State Capitol.

New cubicles at DOT cost $80,000, when state was watching budgets

New cubicles at DOT cost $80,000, when state was watching budgets

The May request for shorter cubicles was made by then-communications director Cris Mulder, who left the agency late last year for a job outside state government, and was approved by DOT Secretary Tony Tata.

“This project will renovate the existing communications space on the first floor to make more efficient use of the multiple work areas and support the strategic departmental goals for integrated, transparent and collaborative communications,” Mulder wrote in a May 22 memorandum for the project obtained through public records request.

But the plea for new communications staff cubicles came just a few weeks over McCrory issued a March memorandum instructing cabinet secretaries to forgo unnecessary spending in order to cover an expected $262 million shortfall in the state’s Medicaid program.

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