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Rural Center’s operations questioned

The News & Observer had another interesting read from over the weekend, a two-part series by investigative reporter Andrew Curliss about the N.C Rural Center.

The Rural Center has traditionally been funded at the tune of $25 million a year by the N.C. General Assembly but is facing considerable uncertainly in current budget negotiations.

Curliss’ first piece (available here) looked at the how money flowed through the center to create low-wage jobs at big-box stores and that the “jobs created numbers” used by the center weren’t accurate.

His Sunday piece (click here) looked at the politics of the center, and how longtime director Billy Ray Hall has run the organization paying special attention to legislators and the politically powerful, including waiving the rules for a movie theater in state Sen. Tommy Tucker’s district and grant money that benefited Gov. Pat McCrory’s  budget director Art Pope’s family business.

From the article:

Officially, the nonprofit N.C. Rural Economic Development Center awards “job generating” grants, funded by state taxpayers, to nondescript government agencies. The city of Rocky Mount. Montgomery County. The town of Indian Trail.

From the center’s files, other stories emerge: Legislators influencing where the money goes. People and businesses from across the political landscape getting in on the deals. Political money men benefiting from taxpayer cash, spent with little notice or scrutiny.

One of the biggest names: Discount store business Variety Wholesalers, whose CEO, Art Pope, is a well-known supporter of nonprofit groups that criticize taxpayer subsidies for businesses. A former Republican legislator, he’s now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.

One of the best connected: Bob Jordan, the former Democratic lieutenant governor who helped start the Rural Center and was a longtime board member. His company was recently part of a grant, but then backed out.

Curliss’ article also referenced a 2012 N.C. Policy Watch report about a Rural Center grant that state Rep. Tim Moore received but later backed out of to expand his law practice.

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Rural Center’s operations questioned