As winter storm snarls traffic, transportation chief promotes new book

Posted February 24, 2015

Tony Tata, secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, appeared on CNN to promote his book on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2014. (Photo by Aysu Basaran/WRAL)

— 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.


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  • Floyd Bridges Feb 25, 2015
    user avatar

    "In 2011, the state Republican Party criticized Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue for attending a Kentucky horse race as several tornadoes ripped through the state."

    Read this sentence carefully. The Republican party criticized Perdue. The story doesn't say anything about Democrats issuing statements or running to a microphone to complain. WRAL had to seek a liberal policy wonk to get a reaction to something he probably even wasn't aware of.

    This "news story" is 100% newsroom fabrication. But hey, that's what passes for journalism these days.

  • Teresa Engel Feb 25, 2015
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    View quoted thread

    Again, the POTUS works 24/7/365, no MATTER WHERE HE IS! He is entitled to a round of golf, for Pete's sake! If you slam him for taking a well-deserved break, then you must admonish Tata for not being at his post too.
    Personally, Mr. Tata deserves his time off, without having to be subjected to ridicule. And the POTUS does too. Time spent outside the office does not necessarily equate to time OFF. It's pretty simple folks, really it is.

  • Teresa Engel Feb 25, 2015
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    View quoted thread

    All of you clamoring to defend this man for not being at his post, seem to conveniently forget that you were all probably clamoring about our POTUS taking in a round of golf while ISIS was beheading people. Our POTUS deserves time off too, more so than our lowly Transportation Secretary, but the endless snide remarks by all of your ilk reflect you having the opposite opinion. Just like our POTUS, Mr. Tata does indeed deserve time off. And yes, he can do his job remotely. And you are justified by saying that, just like we are justified by defending our POTUS for doing the same thing.

  • Harvey Smith Feb 25, 2015
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    what Qualifications does this guy have for this job? As another poster stated the dot workers know what to do , why are we paying for someone to shill their book on TV

  • Lex Alexander Feb 25, 2015
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    Everyone unhappy about the complaints about Tata, were you among the ones complaining when Bev Perdue was out of state when tornadoes struck?

  • Keith Hayes Feb 25, 2015
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    I wonder how many other people would take the time to stay on the phone on work related calls during scheduled time off. It must be a slow news day today..

  • William Teach Feb 25, 2015
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    Good grief. He was invited on to talk about the book. It's not like tons of stations, including WRAL, weren't discussing the storm.

    And, if Rob Schofield is really concerned about someone who is "really committed to his job full time", he should be wondering about Obama's constant vacations and golf outings.

  • Dirk Hamp Feb 25, 2015
    user avatar

    Thank you, Secretary Tata, for your service, both in the military and in public office.
    Unfortunately, people have lost respect, and do not value the sacrifice and commitment that people like you bring to our community. I hope things go well in Chicago, and enjoy any time off that you have earned. And thank you taking time to direct matters here from a distance.

  • Hope Lives Feb 24, 2015
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    Not an "unbiased" title at all.... People (media in particular) have had it out for this man ever since he was doing transportation for WPCSS.

  • Nicolle Leney Feb 24, 2015
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    View quoted thread

    I agree. Even the way the title is written is intended to get a rise out of people. It makes it sound like he was promoting his book during a DOT press conference. Never mind the fact that he left on MONDAY, and even as of Monday night, NOBODY knew this was going to do much. "Cheap shot" is a VERY accurate description.