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Tony Tata 2If you’re looking for a powerful testimonial to the sorry state of both the policy and media worlds in modern North Carolina, you need look no further than the ridiculous hubbub surrounding yesterday’s sudden resignation of state Department of Transportation Secretary, Tony Tata.

The story begins with the bizarre fact that Tata was ever in the job in the first place. Not only did he come to it with almost zero experience in the field (and, indeed, hardly any experience of having lived in North Carolina), he was allowed to continue in the job and collect a full salary long after it became obvious that he was a part-time employee who devoted large blocks of his time to churning out schlocky pulp fiction and dispensing right-wing foreign policy bromides on Fox News. It’s also worth noting that this should have come as no surprise given that Tata’s term as Wake County schools superintendent followed the same pattern.

Yesterday’s sudden resignation was par for the course with Tata. Rather than announcing a plan for resignation and transition to new leadership of the massive department, he made the event all about himself by simply up and quitting in one day without, apparently, even saying good bye. Then, in his inimitable, self-promoting media hog style, Tata went on TV with multiple news hosts before the ink was dry on his resignation to talk about his novels and to contradict his statements from just last month that he had no interest in running for Congress. To make even matters even more absurd, speculation (which he hasn’t denied) has it that he’s considering a run against Republican incumbent Walter Jones, Jr. of eastern North Carolina — this despite the fact that Tata (who’s registered as unaffiliated) does not and has not ever lived in Jones’ district.

But what really served as icing on the cake of yesterday’s nonsense was the fawning behavior of the Raleigh media which was more than happy to abet Tata’s self-promotion. First, WRAL’s lead news anchor David Crabtree went to the trouble of conducting a lengthy interview with the guy — when has this ever happened before with a departing state cabinet secretary (even one who accomplished something and was truly dedicated to his or her job)? As an aside, at least Crabtree pushed Tata on the suddenness of his departure — a question Tata never really answered.

Then, this morning, Raleigh’s News & Observer devoted a large, top-of-the fold, front page story (featuring a large, flattering photo) to his resignation as well as a one-page “Focus” section detailing much of his life story!

The bottom line: It’s more than apparent that the reason Tata gets this attention has little to do with his capabilities as a public administrator or policymaker; it is a result of the perception in some circles — a perception that he is all too happy to promote — that he is a celebrity (someone who is “famous” — at least by North Carolina standards —  for being “famous”). And sadly, as Donald Trump is doing such a good job of demonstrating of late, many Americans continue to find this brand of “leadership” irresistible. We have undoubtedly not seen the last of Tata or his shameless self-promotion.

News

The state Department of Transportation announced this afternoon that it had reached an agreement with environmental groups allowing the agency to replace the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks with a new parallel bridge. Under the agreement, NCDOT will also consider options that would move vulnerable portions of N.C. Highway 12 out of the southern half of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and into Pamlico Sound.

“We appreciate the efforts of all parties to agree on a viable solution that best serves the people and interests of North Carolina,” NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata said in a statement. “The settlement agreement will allow NCDOT to provide a safe and reliable bridge for thousands of residents who rely on this lifeline to get to work, school, and healthcare and for millions of visitors who travel to the Outer Banks every year.”

“We are pleased that NCDOT and its partner agencies will consider additional options for N.C. 12 that will provide safe, reliable transportation by avoiding the areas where erosion and washouts shut down the road in its current location.  This is a win-win for the Refuge and everyone who relies on N.C. 12,” Julie Youngman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the conservation groups added.

Here’s more from the DOT:

Under the settlement agreement, after certain tasks are complete including ceasing work on a 2.4-mile bridge within the Refuge, the conservation groups will dismiss both federal and State Bonner Bridge-related lawsuits.  NCDOT will move forward with construction of a new bridge parallel to the existing Bonner Bridge and will study options for Pamlico Sound structures to address the Mirlo Beach area and the Pea Island inlet created by Hurricane Irene.  NCDOT will complete this entire process collaboratively with the Merger Team, composed of state and federal resource and regulatory agencies. During the study period, NCDOT will implement interim measures on Pea Island to provide safe and reliable transportation through this area. In September 2014, NCDOT suspended construction on a permanent Pea Island Bridge as part of the settlement process.

The groups and the DOT had long been battling in court over the fate of the bridge.  Most recently the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond sent the lawsuit back to the district court for further review, finding that that lower court had failed to consider requirements relating to the protection of wildlife refuge land — here, the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island, through which the battered NC-12 runs – when determining if the project complied federal law.

Read the full settlement agreement here.

Commentary

Tony Tata 2In case you missed it, this morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully tells the state’s $136,000 per year Transportation Secretary, Tony Tata, to start focusing on his job and ditch the Obama bashing on Fox News with Sean Hannity.

Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Why Hannity is turning to Tata for wisdom on the Middle East is baffling. Tata has no special insight into the region. Beyond that, the public learned all it needed to know about Tata’s judgment of military leadership when he publicly declared that Sarah Palin would be a better commander-in-chief than Barack Obama.

Beyond why Hannity would seek Tata’s opinion is the question of why Tata would choose to give it. For a former general, this seems a basic strategic mistake. More than a quarter of North Carolina’s transportation funding comes from the federal government. A state transportation secretary who makes it a practice to go on TV and blast the president for, among other things, endangering the nation, probably is not improving his state’s chances of receiving discretionary federal funding.

Adie Tomer, an associate fellow at Brookings Institute who studies infrastructure funding, said most federal transportation funding is automatic and beyond politics. But there are grants worth many millions of dollars for which states compete. A good relationship with the current administration can help a state gain a winning edge. North Carolina enjoys an edge with former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx serving as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, but that edge may be dulled by Tata’s abrasiveness.

‘It’s a political town,’ Tomer said of Washington, even in agencies that are not directly political. He added that Tata’s criticism of the administration seems contrary to North Carolina’s requests for funding. ‘I just don’t see what there is to gain from it, especially because it’s not his current job,’ Tomer said. ‘Is that looking out for the best interests of North Carolina? It doesn’t sound like it.’

Apparently Tata’s sees his livelihood as being both a secretary of transportation and a retired general. He’s North Carolina’s own Secretary General.”

 

Commentary

Tony Tata 2Don’t despair if you’ve missed out thus far on seeing North Carolina’s Secretary of Fiction/Transportation, A.J. “Crush the Enemy” Tata at one of his numerous appearances to plug his new novel.

It turns out that North Carolina’s $136,000 per year cabinet secretary has been and will be squeezing several more events into his schedule in recent and coming days, including a talk today at the Locke Foundation’s “Shaftsbury Society” luncheon.

Here is is his recent and upcoming book signing schedule from his website AJTata.com:

Chicago, IL – Pritzker Military Library – Feb. 24
Quantico, VA – Quantico base exchange – Feb.27
Arlington, VA – Henderson Hall base exchange – Feb. 28
Fayetteville, NC – Airborne and Special Operations Museum – March 7
Fayetteville, NC – Barnes & Noble – March 7
Raleigh, NC – Quail Ridge Books & Music – March 8
Raleigh, NC – John Locke Foundation – March 9
Jacksonville, NC – Camp LeJeune base exchange – March 13
Havelock, NC – Cherry Point base exchange – March 14
Virginia Beach, VA-Barnes & Noble – March 21
Commentary

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.