As winter storm snarls traffic, transportation chief promotes new book
Posted February 24, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A winter storm that dumped inches of snow across North Carolina Tuesday caught state transportation crews by surprise. But when state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata appeared on CNN Tuesday afternoon, it was to talk about his new military thriller, not problems on the roadways.
Tata traveled to Chicago Monday night and Tuesday to promote his new novel, "Foreign and Domestic," one of a number of titles the retired brigadier general has authored about fictional elite soldiers fighting threats overseas.
DOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said Tata has been in close contact with state officials throughout the storm and participated in a cabinet meeting by phone Tuesday morning.
"Sec. Tata is off today on a long scheduled vacation day and he is in Chicago," Charbonneau said in an email to WRAL News. "That said, I have been talking with him non-stop since 6 a.m. and he's been talking with a number of other NCDOT leaders all day too."
Gov. Pat McCrory's press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During the day, DOT officials dispatched nearly 1,000 brine and sand trucks to treat the roadways as snow swept through the area. Charbonneau said crews had originally planned to head out after the morning commute, but the wintry weather arrived earlier than forecast.
Since 6 a.m., according to the governor's office, State Highway Patrol troopers have responded to almost 2,000 wrecks across the state.
Tata earns $136,000 a year as DOT secretary. In the past, according to his author website, he has donated the proceeds from his books to veterans' groups such as Wounded Warriors.
State policy requires all agency workers to get approval for secondary employment so supervisors can gauge whether it conflicts with their everyday duties. Charbonneau said Tata has received that approval.
But Rob Schofield, policy director with the liberal N.C. Policy Watch, said Tata's absence "raises questions about whether he's really committed to his job full time."
"It's the symbolism of it," Schofield said. "It's the message it sends to taxpayers and DOT employees that the boss can't be bothered to show up for work during critical times."
He's not the first state official to draw fire for travel during damaging weather.
In 2011, the state Republican Party criticized Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue for attending a Kentucky horse race as several tornadoes ripped through the state.