Raleigh, N.C. — A donor to Gov. Pat McCrory and former East Carolina University lecturer is the newest member of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos' senior advising staff.
Margaret "Mardy" Peal, 42, started with the department as a senior planner Aug. 12 and will make $95,000 a year, salary records show. She taught at ECU for about three years in the 1990s, was briefly involved in the early stages of the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party and donated $1,250 to McCrory's campaign in 2012.
Peal was also listed in 2010 under her married name, Grubb, as a member of the board of directors for the anti-abortion Carolina Pregnancy Center, which provides "abortion alternatives, post abortion support and abstinence education with the hope of transforming lives through Jesus Christ," according to its Facebook page.
The hire comes as the agency prepares to rewrite state rules governing access to abortion and grapple with massive Medicaid shortfalls. It also follows weeks of headlines about highly-paid staffers and contractors at the top of DHHS.
Director of Communications Ricky Diaz has not provided Peal's resume or job description, which WRAL News first requested Friday afternoon.
In a written statement forwarded through Diaz Monday, Director of Human Resources Mark Gogal said Peal is on the team working to reform Medicaid, known as the Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina.
“Some of the relevant highlights of [Mardy] Peal’s experience include having served on the faculty at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and her experience in evidence-based medicine," Gogal wrote in the statement.
Diaz referred multiple follow-up questions about Peal's experience Monday and Tuesday to Gogal's statement.
Peal did not respond to email or phone messages Monday.
East Carolina confirmed that she holds a master's degree in health education. According to Interim Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Jim Mullen, Peal was employed full-time from August 1996 to December 1999 by the Department of Family Medicine, where she lectured on standardized patient care.
Aside from a 2000 paper on teaching practices coauthored during her time at the university, Peal has so far left a light digital footprint.
Her 2012 contributions to McCrory listed no employer. She did serve as director of development for the private Christ Covenant School during the 2012-13 academic year, according to Principal Soo Chang. While employed there, she worked to “market our school, present our school’s needs to a wide variety of constituents,” Chang said. She also served as a member of the school's board of directors in 2010-11.
Peal was also active in politics. In addition to her political donations, she appeared on a local radio show in 2010 to promote the formation of the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party, based out of Greenville.
"The first [mission] is to recruit a community of informed, involved and inspired citizens," Peal told radio hosts Tom Lamprecht and Sadie Klaus on April 29, 2010. "Then, we want to rebuild the free-market system through the tenets of limited government, and we want to restore the United States to the principles of its founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."
Although she was briefly listed as a member of the group's "leadership team" on its website, Eastern N.C. Tea Party founder and director Karen Kozel said Peal attended only a few early "brainstorming" meetings and appeared as a visiting speaker at a gathering in 2010.
"She's always been politically and socially conservative and a strong Christian," Kozel said Tuesday.
Another August DHHS hire, planner Sherrie Settle, will make $100,000 a year. Currently listed on LinkedIn as the department's associate director for contracts, grants and compliance, she spent more than 15 years in various roles at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after obtaining master's degrees in health administration and business administration.
The department's current leaders say the hires at DHHS are an attempt to combat major problems inherited from its formerly Democratic administration. Those issues include a severely understaffed audit department, a lack of oversight over finances and IT projects and an inability to communicate with a third of the staff who did not have email accounts.
Diaz has said Wos is already making progress.
"She had to very quickly bring in experts," Diaz told WRAL News last week, "and we're very proud of the fact that, overall, DHHS' base payroll is $23 million less than it was one year ago."
But these explanations have not been enough for some Democratic lawmakers. Last week, the Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to McCrory and Wos demanding answers to a list of 30 questions about everything from hires to food stamp delays.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall also called for a legislative investigation into Wos' salary decisions.