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New NC budget director has banking background and heritage of politics and journalism

POPE03-NE-080614-CCS
Chris Seward - cseward@newsobserver.com
Incoming State Budget Director Lee Roberts, right, speaks after Gov. Pat McCrory introduced him during a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh on Aug. 6, 2014. He replaces outgoing Budget Director Art Pope.

RALEIGH A former community bank director and recent appointee to the N.C. Banking Commission will take over as state budget director next month.

Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday announced Lee Roberts – son of journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts and grandson of the late Democratic Rep. Lindy Boggs of Louisiana – would succeed Art Pope, head of the Variety Wholesalers retail chain, whose government service McCrory praised at an executive mansion press conference.

Roberts, 45, is the former managing director of Piedmont Community Bank Holdings in Raleigh and was executive vice president and chief operating officer of VantageSouth Bancshares.

Roberts also founded a real estate investment and advisory firm called Coley Capital and has worked for Morgan Stanley & Co., Cherokee Investment Partners and as an associate with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

“His experience in the global marketplace will provide a useful and original perspective, and his leadership skills will further our administration’s goal of thoughtful, deliberate stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” McCrory said.

The state’s budget director oversees the development of the spending and revenue plan the governor presents to the N.C. General Assembly. The plan recently agreed upon by both legislative chambers totals more than $21 billion.

Roberts told reporters that his experience underwriting loans connected him deeply with North Carolina, taking him across the state. “I’ve been to a lot of places that most people have yet to,” he said.

But he did not clarify how he arrived at his new role.

“I was delighted that the governor asked me to serve,” he said, deferring to McCrory’s office on a question about the hiring process. Asked whether he pursued or applied for the position, Roberts said only: “I think with all these things, it’s just a process of getting to know each other and understanding how I can come in and make a contribution.”

A governor’s office spokesman would not comment on whether Roberts competed with other applicants or whether he was hand-picked by McCrory.

Said Roberts: “I don’t think I was a name out of the blue, but I can’t speak to the process.”

Roberts’ salary will be $154,836, which according to the Office of State Human Resources is the same as former governor Bev Perdue’s last budget director, Andy Willis.

“Lee has a terrific sense of fiscal responsibility, and I’m excited to have him join our team,” McCrory said in a statement. “North Carolina state government will thrive under his oversight.”

Unaffiliated voter

According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, Roberts is not affiliated with any political party. He has contributed to Republican and Democratic causes on the state and federal levels. In 2012, he gave $4,000 to McCrory’s campaign and $1,000 to the re-election campaign of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is expected to challenge McCrory in 2016.

Roberts grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, earned a degree in political science from Duke University, then a law degree from Georgetown University. He has lived in Raleigh for eight years. He is on the board of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and has also served on the Board of Trustees for the Ravenscroft School and is vice president of the Duke Alumni Association.

The governor appointed Roberts to the Banking Commission in April 2013.

Roberts said Wednesday it “probably does make sense” for him to leave the banking commission because of his new role as state budget director, but did not express a commitment.

It will be his first salaried government position, he said, though he noted he worked as a congressional page as a 16-year-old in 1985. There, he met his future wife, Liza Roberts, who is editor and general manager of Walter Magazine, which is owned by The News & Observer. They have two daughters and a son.

Roberts said he was honored to follow Pope.

“We’re different people, but I think you can’t argue with the effectiveness he’s had on behalf of the governor and his agenda, so I think he’s done a pretty good job,” Roberts said of Pope. “If I can be half as effective as he’s been, I feel like I’d be doing pretty well.” Staff writers John Frank, David Raynor, and Rick Rothacker contributed.

Ben Brown writes for the NCInsider.com, www.ncinsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer.
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