Board of Governors, prison contract stories have top lawmakers' attention
Posted November 6, 2015
Updated November 7, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A committee headed by the state's most powerful lawmakers wants to know more about recent controversies involving the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and a prison maintenance contract.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger head the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations. The committee functions as the highest level of legislative oversight, and its meetings are often harbingers of the issues senior lawmakers see as most pressing.
The Nov. 18 agenda says lawmakers will hear from the UNC Board of Governors and the UNC system's general counsel. A spokeswoman for Berger's office said the state's open meetings law will be among the topics discussed.
In October, the board met behind closed doors to raise the salary of 12 UNC system chancellors but did not ratify that action in public or immediately reveal it upon requests, as is typically required of the state's Open Meetings and Open Records Acts.
That turn of events came a week after a controversial process used to hire new UNC President Margaret Spellings concluded after a number of closed-door meetings.
Also on the agenda is the examination of a controversial prison contract.
As first reported by The News & Observer a week ago, Gov. Pat McCrory facilitated and attended a meeting between a campaign donor, Graeme Keith Sr., and officials with the Department of Public Safety. Those officials were debating whether or not to extend a prison maintenance contract for Keith's company.
Officials with the department were leaning toward ending the contract, but documents provided under a public records request showed that top McCrory lieutenants prevailed on the department to sign an extension. Most controversially, memos recording the meeting suggest that Keith said his history of campaign donations should entitle him to "get something in return" for those donations. He made that remark during a meeting that the governor attended, although the governor has said he didn't hear the remark.
McCrory has criticized those stories, saying his administration did nothing wrong.
"The McCrory administration thoroughly reviewed the data through an ethical process and made a sound, business-like decision that was in the best interest of public safety as well as the taxpayers of North Carolina," a McCrory news release read following the story's publication.
According to the committee's agenda, they will hear from DPS Secretary Frank Perry and David Guice, a former lawmaker who is now director of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.
Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said the investigations into the contract could drag on into McCrory's re-election campaign.
"It just becomes a constant drip, and eventually it hurts them," McLennan said. "So, the story develops legs because of the number of people that are looking at it and the length of time that they're looking at it."
An ongoing investigation is bad news for any candidate, he said, but this could be an even more serious problem for McCrory.
"He made Democratic corruption the centerpiece of his (2012) campaign," he said. "No matter how this plays out, it still smells of the same sort of thing he was criticizing Democrats for three and a half years ago."
McLennan predicted McCrory's Democratic opponent will do everything he can to keep it in the public eye, too.
"It's just something that plays well with North Carolinians. First, wasted money, and second, being hypocritical," McLennan said. "That’s a good campaign ad series."