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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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There’s more scrutiny today over high pay that some members of state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos’ executive team are receiving, with this News & wosmugshotObserver article about a lucrative contract a well-connected adviser to Wos landed.

As the N&O’s Lynn Bonner reported, adviser Joe Hauck has received $228,000 for eight months of work, as part of a personal services contract he had to advise Wos. That works out to $28,500 a month.

Hauck is a senior adviser to Wos, and is on a leave of absence from New Breed, Inc., a High Point-based logistics company run by Wos’ husband, Louis DeJoy.

His contract is capped at a total pay of $310,000 and is set to expire at the end of the November.

From Bonner’s story:

Hauck came to DHHS from New Breed Logistics, where Wos’ husband is CEO. Hauck is vice president of marketing and communications, and is on leave from the company. Wos was a campaign fundraiser for Gov. Pat McCrory, and New Breed employees were prime contributors. Hauck gave $6,500 to McCrory’s campaign in 2011 and 2012.

[DHHS communications director] Diaz said in an email that Hauck “is an accomplished leader with 35 years of executive management experience across the entire spectrum of business operations and communications disciplines. He provides solid business insight with the ability to ascertain and analyze organizational requirements, forecast goals, streamline operations, and execute new program concepts.”

Diaz wrote that Hauck came up with a plan to save $5 million “without reductions in services rendered,” but did not specify the plan or the services.

Kim Genardo, McCrory’s spokeswoman, said Hauck “provides a helluva lot of good service.”

In an email, Genardo said no one in McCrory’s office approved the contract. “DHHS followed all policy and procedure as it relates to Joe Hauck’s personal service contract,” she wrote.

“Everyone was well aware” that Hauck worked at New Breed Logistics, Genardo added. She described the relationship as “very transparent.”

You can read the entire News & Observer article here.

Diaz, who was quoted in the N&O article,   is one of the two 24-year-olds hired by Wos to serve in senior-level DHHS positions at salaries of $85,000 and $87,500. Both Diaz and Wos’ chief policy adviser Matt McKillip received $20,000-plus raises in April, after McCrory had issued a directive to state agency leaders to freeze salaries of state employees.

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Did you manage to listen to the speeches by President Obama and others yesterday for the 50th commemoration of the March on Washington? You can hit the highlights of the speeches here and also go back in history and watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original speech here.

How much do you know about the March on Washington? You can test yourself with this quiz here on the Religion News Services. Be warned, it’s tough. I only got 40 percent right, which I’m pretty sure means I failed and need to spend more time learning about this enormously important moment in our American history.

Here’s something else I didn’t know about King’s famous speech. It was copyrighted. So, that means that the Youtube link I posted above may be in violation of copyright laws. I probably should have paid more attention in the copyright and fair use classes I took when I was in journalism school (though Youtube, Twitter and Facebook weren’t even “things” way back when I was in school.)

Speaking of journalism and degrees, I guess, in the interest of full disclosure, I should also point out that I’m one of those journalists without an economics degree that Gov. McCrory referred to in Asheville this week. Looks like I have plenty of company, though. WRAL pointed out that McCrory also doesn’t have an economics degree and his jobs and economy advisor (who makes $110,000 a year a few years out of law school) doesn’t have one either. Read to the end of this AP article for more about that.

Back to the March on Washington. The iconic images from the day 50 years ago were largely in black and white, and there’s an interesting display on NPR of what that day’s photos would have looked like in color here. It hits me in a different way, and reinforces the fact that 50 years was not all that long ago. What did you think?

Want to know the story behind other iconic images? The Newseum in Washington, D.C. has a feature that tells the photographers’ stories about several Pulitzer Prize winning photographs taken at events like the Kent State shootings and Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Click on the images to learn more.