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A political appointee without any apparent background in conservation work is running a state water quality restoration fund, a departure from statutory requirements of the job.

Bryan Gossage, of Apex, became the executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund on Nov. 4, and will make $78,000 a year in that position, according to Drew Elliot, the communications director for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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Bryan Gossage, right, with Gov. McCrory. Source: Gossage’s LinkedIn page.

It is Gossage’s second job in the McCrory Administration in the last six months, and a significant drop in pay for the former Apex councilman. He was initially hired in May, at a $117,000 annual salary, to serve as a deputy secretary in charge of innovation support at the N.C. Commerce Department.

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North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced an initiative yesterday to address how mental health and substance abuse is handled across the state, and how best to avoid using emergency rooms and jail cells as regular treatment options.

“We will ask this coalition to assess our existing structure in the state and recommend possible policy changes to help break down the barriers to care for our patients,” Wos said, according to the Associated Press.

But it appears the state agency already assembled a coalition and launched a similar effort two years ago, when DHHS released a comprehensive action plan to lessen behavioral health stays in local emergency rooms.

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As the state commerce department continues to incorporate massive changes to its unemployment system, questions came from legislators Wednesday about why Gov. Pat McCrory hasn’t assembled a board to review disputed unemployment cases

A three-member review board was created in 2011 by the legislature to serve as the final review board for unemployment insurance cases, where either employers or workers feel their cases weren’t handled fairly.

“The law was clear, that the governor is to make appointments,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, a Charlotte Republican, in a legislative oversight hearing Wednesday about unemployment.

But neither McCrory, a Republican, nor his Democratic predecessor Bev Perdue ever made those appointments.

McCrory’s press office  issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon saying that McCrory was reviewing the applications.

“The governor’s office is currently reviewing candidates and we will appoint the three members to the Unemployment Review Board,” McCrory spokesperson Ryan Tronovitch wrote in a written statement.

Tronovitch refused to answer questions about what was causing the delay, and when the appointments would be made.

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Maybe it’s those handouts we are distributing in our community meetings around the state featuring a photo of a smiling Governor McCrory signing the bill earlier this year that sent back a $74 million grant to NC from the federal government for advertising and implementing effectively the Affordable Care Act in NC and rejecting $15 billion more in federal dollars for expanding Medicaid. Maybe it’s the fact that some NC hospitals are closing or laying off employees already because of the decision by McCrory and the General Assembly not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Maybe it’s the unending bad press the Governor is getting as a result of the blatant cronyism and incompetence at the NC Department of Health and Human Services. Or maybe its the overwhelming response today as NC’s health insurance exchanges open up and people with a history of cancer can finally afford health insurance along with 25 year olds who make $20,000 a year.

For whatever reason the Governor has decided to not continue his previous active resistance to the Affordable Care Act. He’s instructing parts of NC state government to cooperate with signing people up and even released this video statement today that directs people to the www.healthcare.gov website to sign up for coverage. I think he sees the politics of the Affordable Care Act as changing rapidly. He’s getting enormous pressure about the terrible decision not to expand Medicaid and he wants to shore up his crumbling reputation as a moderate. Who knows, this change of heart may indicate more willingness to expand Medicaid under the Act next year too. Stay tuned.

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Rose Hoban, NC Health News

Rose Hoban, NC Health News

Rose Hoban of N.C. Health News, a non-profit journalism website focused on covering state public health policy, penned this editorial over the weekend about the increasing difficult time reporters are having in getting questions answered by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hoban recounted how she and her staff, since reporting what Hoban called unflattering news in May about DHHS, have been stonewalled by the agency’s public affairs staff. The news group has resorted to public records requests in order to get information from the public agency.

From Hoban’s piece, published Sunday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

[T]he closing of the lines of communication between DHHS and reporters in the past six months has been troubling. Ricky Diaz, the lead press officer at DHHS, has been quoted in many stories about issues in his department, but many reporters have increasingly voiced concern about the increased time it takes to get responses to requests for information – if they get a response at all. And while Diaz may be quoted, there have been few opportunities for exchanges between Secretary of DHHS Aldona Wos and other leaders in the department.

Recently, the N&O reported that one of its reporters was blocked by “a bodyguard” in an attempt to ask Wos a question. And departmental employees were told to call police if activists who were bringing petitions to the Dix campus – where DHHS offices are located – stopped any employees or entered any of the department’s public buildings.

At NC Health News, we have had most media requests denied or unanswered since we ran a story in May that painted Wos in an unflattering light. We have resorted to making most requests in the form of open records requests with legal language that essentially compels the department to answer or face the prospect of litigation.

You can read Hoban’s editorial in its entirety here, where she talks about the risk to public health that broken communication lines can cause.

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