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Personnel troubles, again, at N.C. DHHS

More questions about Aldona Wos’ hiring practices at the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Wos’ CFO for the mental health division, Les Merritt, planned to resign from the state Ethics Commission on Friday after a reporter asked whether he had a conflict of interest. Merritt, a former Republican state auditor, signed a $312,000 annual contract with DHHS in May.

A WRAL News reporter asked Merritt if that posed a conflict with his role as a government watchdog on the Ethics Commission. Members of that panel are legally barred from being employees of the state because their job is to ensure that elected officials and top administrators obey state ethics laws. Merritt is technically a contractor, not an employee, but the arrangement was clearly violating the spirit of the law that created the Ethics Commission.

In a sad twist, Merritt started a foundation a few years ago whose mission was to investigate public corruption and educate folks about ethics in government. Yet Merritt said the notion that there could be a perceived conflict of interest with his dual roles never crossed his mind until WRAL asked.

Merritt is doing the right thing by resigning his ethics seat. An even bigger question, perhaps, is why Merritt is being paid more than twice what the governor makes to be the CFO of a division within DHHS. But after big pay bumps for two 24-year-olds at the department and a lucrative contract for a colleague of Wos’ husband, it’s no longer a surprise.

A Presidential approval

In a small, sunlit ceremony on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen were wed last weekend in Kennebunk, Maine. Clement and Thorgalsen have been together for 12 years. In the last 12 months, Maine voters decided to allow same-sex weddings in their state.

In the audience were neighbors from nearby Kennebunkport, Barbara and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president. A representative for the fomer commander in chief said that the couple were “private citizens attending a private ceremony for two friends.” But the president did just a bit more – signing the happy couple’s marriage license as a witness.

Thorgalsen posted a picture of the signing on her Facebook page.

In a way, it’s not such a big deal, this presidential nod. Several members of the Bush circle – including daughter-in-law and former first lady Laura – have previously come out in support of gay marriage. His son George has not, and neither had the senior Bush.

But there he was a week ago – a Republican president enjoying a moment so familiar to us all. Champagne flute in hand. Smiles all around. No policy positions or debates. Just friends celebrating their friends’ joy. It really can be that simple.

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