Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers tasked with overseeing the Department of Public Safety on Thursday questioned whether recent moves to reorganize the department by the McCrory administration met with legislative and constitutional requirements.
Frank Perry, who serves as Gov. Pat McCrory's secretary for the agency, answered questions about a hodgepodge of issues for about an hour, but he encountered the sharpest inquiries in relation to how he had reorganized the agency in recent years.
"There may be some constitutional issues with combining the Division of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice into a single division," said Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, pointing to an Oct. 16 memo from legislative staff.
Perry made that change in 2013, and the memo argues that only the governor, with the cooperation of the legislature, could make such a move.
"It's going well," Perry said of the merger. "But if it's inappropriate, I will revisit that."
That answer didn't placate Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, who worried that the moves could "lay us out open for lawsuits and other problems."
Perry said he didn't think that was the case, adding that he was perplexed by the timing of the criticism.
"I don't understand why it took two-and-a-half years for this to come up," he said, noting that he made presentations to the General Assembly about the moves twice in the past two years.
Legislative staffers told lawmakers they would likely have to pass a bill to clean up the moves, but there was a low probability of encountering any lawsuits.
Challenging staff moves
Lawmakers also asked Perry why he failed to put the Samarkand Training Academy directly under his office's oversight, as directed in the last budget, rather than assigning the task to a deputy.
Perry said he understood the lawmakers confusion and said it was an issue of interpretation.
"The question that arose for me is what is the 'office of secretary'? How deep does that go (on the organizational chart)?" Perry said.
Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said lawmakers and the department had a problem with communication and questioned why lawyers for the two groups didn't get together before there was a problem.
Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, asked about staff moves that had ended with the layoffs of Lorrie Dollar, who had been the department's chief operating officer, and William Crews, who had overseen administration. Dollar is the wife of Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, a top budget writer.
Boles asked for assurances the moves "were nothing personal against us."
Perry explained the moves were made to deal with budget cuts and aimed at making sure those on his staff had experience with "operations" versus those with mainly administrative qualifications.
"As far as those individuals you mentioned, very good people, very bright people, but I had to look at what I was given," he said. "We are not the Department of Administration. Those individuals were quite adept and had grand resumes with administration, but we needed operations. We are operational. So, I had to make the decision – do we keep people who are adept at operations, or do we keep people who are adept at administration?"
After pushing the point for a few minutes, Boles backed off the line of questioning.