Commentary

Story shines light on disturbingly cozy relationships in General Assembly

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the story in Raleigh’s News & Observer about the cozy relationship between House Speaker Tim Moore and a pair of his former House colleagues who have gone on to prominent government jobs. This is from the story:

“Two former state lawmakers got an unusual payday this month from House Speaker Tim Moore – $67 each for replacing a range hood and taking down two bathroom mirrors in the Raleigh condo Moore rents from his own business.

Moore paid Edgar Starnes and Mitch Gillespie after The News & Observer inquired about the work. Starnes is the legislative liaison for the State Treasurer’s Department, and Gillespie is a senior policy analyst on Moore’s staff.

All three worked together as Republican House members for much of the past decade. Starnes, of Caldwell County, was majority leader while Moore served as the powerful Rules Committee chairman under Speaker Thom Tillis….

In October, Moore was updating the condo, which he bought in 2013 through a company he owns called Moore Properties of Kings Mountain. He uses his political campaign money to pay his company the rent on the condo when the legislature isn’t in session. He uses his per diem from the legislature to pay rent during the session.

WBTV in Charlotte first reported that arrangement, which state Board of Elections officials say does not violate election laws.

Moore said those updates included a new oven, dishwasher and refrigerator, as well as new countertops for the kitchen and bathroom and a new toilet. He showed billing documents from Lowe’s for the items and installation work, but did not provide copies of them.

He based the $67 payments on a $114 estimate Lowe’s gave him for replacing the range hood, and an additional $10 labor for taking down the mirrors.”

Now, obviously, the dollars involved in all of this are small potatoes. But as the story points out, the arrangements raise real questions of judgment for Moore. What’s more they also highlight the cozy relationships that often permeate the musical chairs world surrounding the General Assembly — one in which individuals frequently arrive in Raleigh as backbench legislators and parlay their positions into lucrative lobbying and government gigs, all while maintaining close ties to their former colleagues.

The bottom line: The North Carolina General Assembly isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a small town club like it was in past times. It is the legislature of a large and growing state and citizens have a right to expect that the men and women elected to serve in it will treat it as such and adhere scrupulously to the ethics rules that govern it. Let’s hope Moore, Gillespie and Starnes have been reminded of this.

Commentary

Editorial blasts “oblivious” McCrory for Duke meeting

Be sure to check out this morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the latest controversy swirling around Gov. Pat McCrory and his former long-time employer, Duke Energy. The headline and subtitles do a good job of summarizing the content:

“Gov. McCrory numb to the appearance of hosting Duke Energy
-Is Gov. Pat McCrory just oblivious?
-Meeting with Duke officials
-Appearances do matter”

As WRAL reported earlier this week, McCrory held a private, closed door meeting with his former employer at the very moment that his administration was engaged in important law enforcement activities targeting the the energy giant. The N&O editorial rightfully blasts McCrory for not recognizing the obvious conflicts inherent in such a meeting:

“The meeting demonstrates an amazing lack of awareness, as at the time Duke was in the middle of dealing with some of the fallout from a coal ash spill in the Dan River. The company’s saga with the spill included an agreement to pay a federal fine of $102 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and then a state environmental official wanted to impose a $50 million fine, according to records. The state ended up levying a $25 million fine for groundwater contamination, reduced in September to $7 million.

At dinner in the mansion were Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, other top Duke officials and the governor’s legal counsel, among others. McCrory worked for Duke for 29 years.

The governor should understand that meetings such as this one just look bad, coming as a company with which the governor had a long-term connection (providing him a handsome livelihood) is in the midst of controversy with different levels of government. If the governor isn’t astute about such appearances, those around him should be.”

The problem (as McCrory has made clear repeatedly over the last three years) is that he does not appear to “get” basic concepts like the difference between being Governor of a state and Mayor of a city. As the editorial puts it: “Sometimes, Gov. Pat McCrory seems to think he’s still the mayor of Charlotte….”

For better or worse, however, McCrory is the Governor and desperately needs to learn how to behave like one — ideally before his term is up.

News

Several face fines for late state ethics forms , including two mayors and top official at John Locke Foundation

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

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore gets job as Cleveland County attorney, tasks include advising on legislation (with update)

Note: This post has been updated to include comment from Moore’s legislative office.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore has a new job, after he was hired this week to serve as the attorney for Cleveland County, where he lives.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

One of his tasks in the county position will be to “[a]dvise the Board and Manager on proposed legislation,” according to a copy of Moore’s contract, which was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

That could raise questions about whether the new job poses a conflict of interest for Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican. As head of the state House of Representatives, Moore has considerable influence and insider knowledge about state budget negotiations as well as other pieces of state legislation that affect counties around the state.

Moore’s legislative staff said that his county-based job will be limited to offering advice on proposed legislation in the county, and not any state legislation.

The House Speaker job tends to be a time-consuming one, though all members of the legislature are considered part-time lawmakers with many still running businesses or going to jobs in their home districts. Moore makes $38,151 a year as House Speaker.

The Shelby Star noted that when Moore was hired Tuesday at a county commission meeting, he made reference to his position in the state legislature.

“Moore joked about having another job that gave him ‘some insight’ about what is going on in the state and communities but still had a law practice to keep up,” the Shelby Star wrote in an article about Moore’s hiring.

State ethics law prevents those in public positions, like lawmakers, from using their public position to bring “financial benefit to the covered person or legislative employee, a member of the covered person’s or legislative employee’s extended family, or business with which the covered person or legislative employee is associated.”

Clayton Somers, Moore’s chief of staff, said Friday afternoon that Moore sought an informal ethics opinion before taking the job, and that the legislation referred to in the contract was only county-based proposals, not state legislation.

“He is not going to advise the county on any state legislation,” Somers said.

Moore will receive a $25,000 annual retainer, and will bill the county $250 an hour for whatever work he does serving as the legal adviser to the county commission, according to a copy of his contract obtained from Cleveland County by N.C. Policy Watch.

The job will require Moore to attend commission meetings, consult with the county commission and county manager as needed and prepare legal documents and contracts, in addition to offering advice about pending legislation.

“It just doesn’t look good,” said Jane Pinsky, the head of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, about Moore’s new contract employee job with the county.

Even if the arrangement is legal and Moore operates in an ethical manner, it can still leave the public with the impression that those in political power are able to easily secure jobs because of their public roles, she said.

“It’s one more thing that people think if you’re one of the good old boys, there’s a benefit to that,” Pinsky said.