RALEIGH Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t tell the legislature in February that he had appointed 10 people to the state Board of Transportation, so they won’t take their seats until April.
Rather than summon former members to Raleigh last week for a final lame-duck session, state transportation officials canceled the board’s March meeting.
A skipped meeting would have had a big impact in the old days, causing delays in road-building and big decisions at the Department of Transportation. For decades, DOT officials had little authority to spend money without board approval.
But former Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, stripped most powers from the board of political appointees in 2009, and the Republican-led legislature wrote her changes into law. Not needing board approval, DOT officials last week continued signing contracts to repair bridges, hire consultants and widen highways.
State law empowers the governor to appoint all of the board’s 19 members. But they must wait to begin their duties while the governor gives a legislative oversight committee 30 days to review the names and offer comments. McCrory announced his appointments on Feb. 4, 30 days before the scheduled March 6 board meeting. But he did not formally notify the legislature until March 1, and by then DOT had scrubbed the March meeting.
“We just got word that it was going to be canceled because they were waiting to get the new board members in place, in April,” said board member Gus Tulloss, a Rocky Mount Republican. Tulloss is one of nine members who have not been replaced by McCrory, a Republican.
At least two board vacancies are yet to be filled. Former board chairman Robert A. Collier Jr., a Statesville Democrat, resigned after the March meeting was canceled. And McCrory’s office recently informed George “Tripp” Sloane III, an Ocean Isle Beach Democrat, that he will be replaced.
Sloane was the board’s designated at-large member for rural transportation issues. His presence had caused a problem for McCrory because he lives in one of the five counties of DOT’s Division 3. McCrory picked two new Division 3 residents – Michael V. Lee and John D. Lennon, both of Wilmington – and advisers later pointed out that state law allows no more than two from any of DOT’s 14 divisions.
Although a board seat no longer carries the political clout it had in previous years, the appointments still go mostly to political supporters of the governor. McCrory’s March 1 letter to the legislature included biographical information and disclosure statements required by law, showing how much money each appointee contributed to his campaign.
Crystal Feldman, the governor’s press secretary, said the campaign money disclosures would not be released publicly until after the 30-day review period. She said the board members’ biographical details are secret because the information is confidential personnel information under state law. Board members are not paid, but they are reimbursed for travel expenses.
Public campaign finance records indicate that McCrory received $30,544 in campaign funds from eight of his 10 appointees and their spouses. Only appointees Cheryl McQueary, a Greensboro Republican, and Michael C. Smith, a Raleigh Republican, are not listed as McCrory donors.
McQueary was named March 1 to replace McCrory’s original choice, Greensboro builder Dwight Stone, who had withdrawn his name.
“We delayed sending that list (to the legislature) so we could complete the appointments we had available at the time,” Feldman said.