Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Berger Puzzled by 'Ethics' Interpretation

Mary Easley’s job funding at issue

Senate Republican Leader Press Release
May 26, 2009

Raleigh, N.C. – Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) today called on the Democratic co-chairmen of the Legislative Ethics Committee to determine whether an effort to abolish funding for Mary Easley’s $170,000 per year position at N.C. State University would violate ethics rules. Late last week, legislative staff advised House Republican Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) that it may be unethical to propose elimination of funding for Mary Easley’s position even though she is not subject to the State Personnel Act. Berger is concerned that if this opinion is adopted by the full Ethics Committee, it would silence discussion of the circumstances surrounding Mary Easley’s hiring and quash efforts to resolve the issue through the budgeting process.

“It is inconceivable to me that bipartisan efforts to resolve the embarrassing circumstances surrounding Mary Easley’s hiring could be derailed as ‘unethical,’” said Berger. “This type of convoluted reasoning illustrates what a lot of people see as wrong with state government.”

UNC System President Erskine Bowles and N.C. State Board of Trustees Chairman Bob Jordan have called for Mary Easley to resign. If she does not resign, Bowles has said university officials could act on her position when they write the university budget for the coming fiscal year.

Below is the text of Berger’s letter to Sen. Steve Goss and Rep. Rick Glazier:

Dear Senator Goss and Representative Glazier:

I do not know if you are aware of an opinion that has been rendered by staff in response to a question presented by Representative Stam. A copy of his request and the staff response is enclosed. I request a formal opinion from the Legislative Ethics Committee as to whether any attempt by a member of the North Carolina General Assembly to eliminate funding for Mary Easley’s contract with North Carolina State University would be an ethical violation.

I am astonished that Rep. Stam’s inquiry would illicit this response. To equate the effort to resolve a situation that is highly embarrassing to the State of North Carolina, the university system and North Carolina State University with the reason behind this statute is to elevate legalism over common sense.

For the record, I have publicly stated that if Mrs. Easley fails to resign, the governor and the General Assembly should eliminate funding for her contract. While it is my understanding that her position is not subject to the State Personnel Act, I am particularly troubled by any blanket assertion that G.S. 120-86.1 would trigger ethical sanctions.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.


Philip E. Berger
Republican Leader
North Carolina Senate