Golden Leaf delays choice

The board of the multimillion dollar Golden Leaf Foundation delayed its decision on hiring a new president this week after Gov. Mike Easley asked them to hold off and consider his chief economic adviser for the job.

Easley and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight both encouraged board members to consider Dan Gerlach for the post.

The job referrals come as two bills in the General Assembly threaten the foundation's money.

It's also the second time in recent weeks that Easley has tried to find new employment for a top aide as his administration nears its end.

Basnight, a Democrat from Manteo, said Easley asked him to recommend Gerlach as a candidate for president of the Golden Leaf Foundation. The Rocky Mount-based foundation, created in 1999, administers installments from the national legal settlement that states reached with the major tobacco companies. The money, ultimately totaling more than $2billion, is designated to help tobacco-dependent and economically distressed communities.

The board began looking for a new president six months ago when the current president, Valeria Lee, announced she was stepping down. Board members interviewed candidates, but Easley asked the board before its quarterly meeting this week to delay a decision until its September meeting, said chairman Tommy Bunn. Board members concluded they “wanted to pursue the possibility of additional talent” and agreed, Bunn said.

Gerlach said he is waiting to discuss job opportunities until after the General Assembly session adjourns, which could be as early as July.

“Right now I'm spending about every waking moment working on the governor's budget and getting that implemented,” Gerlach said, “and that's all I'm focused on.”

Legislators at various times have threatened to take the foundation's money and, among other proposals, use it to pay for new construction. Basnight's push for a new president may have been perceived as an assurance that he believed the foundation will continue to operate.

Basnight appoints five of the 15 board members, Easley appoints another five, as does the Speaker of the House. Basnight said he called appointees earlier this week about Gerlach.

“He's an incredible talent, a problem solver,” Basnight said, lightheartedly noting that he wanted Gerlach to come manage his restaurant.

Gerlach, who also has served as one of Easley's ambassadors to the legislature, has worked as a budget analyst for the New York Assembly and for the nonprofit N.C. Budget & Tax Center in Raleigh.

Basnight said Gerlach had not applied because he didn't want to leave Easley during budget negotiations, so Basnight explained that to his appointees, he said.

Last month Easley nominated his budget director, David McCoy, as the next state controller. The Senate has approved McCoy, but the House has yet to vote.