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Hiring at DHHS raises big questions

Remember Aldona Wos’ bumbling hiring of Dianna Lightfoot in February to head the state’s early education program? It foreshadowed all the questionable hiring Wos, head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, has made since then.

Lightfoot resigned two days after her hiring when news broke that she had publicly opposed prekindergarten, and had made controversial and offensive comments on Facebook and Twitter. Wos had hired her for the $110,000 position, praising her as a “strategic and tactical top tier executive with extensive health care, child welfare and education expertise.” Critics questioned Wos’ judgment. Education experts chimed in, saying Lightfoot might have deep political connections but she hardly had solid early education expertise.

But Wos seems to like political connections over expertise – and is willing to throw away a lot of taxpayer dollars to bring it to DHHS. Her hiring two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign aides at salaries of $85,000 and $87,500 raised eyebrows this summer. So did her hiring of an employee on leave from her husband’s company to serve as a senior adviser on a contract basis. He has been paid $228,000 for eight months of work.

On board last week for a newly created $95,000 senior planner position with DHHS was Margaret “Mardy” Peal, one of Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign donors. Peal, a lecturer, was hired for McCrory’s initiative to allow private insurance companies to run the government’s health care program. She has been absent from the health care labor force for 11 years.

Thomas L. Adams only worked for Wos for a month in March as her chief of staff. But he’s gotten in on the largesse. It was reported last week that Wos reached a settlement with Adams, who left for personal reasons. Adams, now listed as a lobbyist for the N.C. Captive Insurance Association, was given a $37,227.35 settlement in addition to pay that he received for his month of work at the $155,000-a-year job.

McCrory takes umbrage at people for questioning Wos’ hires, noting that she’s working for the state and taking only $1 in salary. But what she’s giving away in pay to her crony hires has more than made up that difference in her compensation – with a huge bonus to boot. This does not look like good stewardship of taxpayer money.

Another tragic week

Another horror - this one last Monday in Washington, D.C., where a young man with a shotgun walked to a 4th floor atrium so that he could kill people in a cafeteria below.

Another outpouring of grief - this time on Tuesday as we learned details of the 12 workers killed at the Washington Navy Yard. A father and Boston Bruins fan. A mother making plans for retirement. A husband who told his wife "see you for dinner" before walking out his front door for good.

Another round of calls for tighter gun laws Wednesday and Thursday, but more muted than times before, because if the killing of elementary school children in Newtown can’t prompt sensible changes regarding weapons, background checks and mental health, what will?

And so, by Friday, the national conversation had largely moved on to other topics, which is what the NRA and many gun advocates prefer. It’s why they have vowed to campaign against legislators who support stricter gun laws. This month, in Colorado, two such state lawmakers lost in a recall election.

Perhaps that influenced the quiet response to last week’s tragedy in Washington. Or perhaps, as a country, we’ve crossed a threshold in which mass shootings have become something closer to normal. Another dozen dead. Another opportunity missed. Another week in America.

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