Raleigh, N.C. — Neither the Governor's Office nor the Department of Health and Human Services is responding to questions about the vetting of Dianna Lightfoot.
Meantime, questions about the former appointee continue to mount.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot was announced as the new head of the Division of Childhood Development and Early Education. In the press release, which has now apparently been deleted from the DHHS website, her credentials appeared slim: "She holds a master’s degree in psychology and community relations, a counseling license and a secondary teaching credential."
Still, Secretary Aldona Wos described her in glowing terms: "Ms. Lightfoot is a strategic and tactical top tier policy executive with extensive health care, child welfare and education expertise,” Wos said in a statement. "Her leadership will ensure we meet the state’s longstanding commitment to protect and serve our young children.”
Lightfoot was to start work Feb. 11 at an annual salary of $110,000.
But questions surfaced Wednesday about her decade of work as founder and president of the National Physician's Center for Family Resources, an organization that advocates against public early education programs, and about comments she posted on social media referring to fringe theories and using gay slurs.
Thursday, as more questions arose about her voting registration, which appears to be illegal, DHHS announced Lightfoot had decided not to accept the position after all.
Former director surprised
The director Lightfoot was to replace, Deb Cassidy, had been at DCDEE since 2009. She holds a Ph.D. in child development and has been on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro since 1990.
Cassidy was fired in January, with five hours' notice to submit a report, pack her office and leave. She says Wos never met with her, canceling four scheduled meetings. She was dismissed by a letter delivered by human resources.
As a political appointee, she says, "I knew that this could happen, but I didn't think it would be done in such a disrespectful way."
Cassidy said she was surprised Wos would appoint a public pre-kindergarten chief who doesn't believe in public pre-kindergarten.
"All I could think of is, I guess [Wos] wants to dismantle what we've built here in North Carolina. I don't know what else it could be," she said.
Cassidy also said Lightfoot showed up unannounced at the Baptist Children's Home in Thomasville last week and introduced herself as the new division director, stopping by for a site visit. Staff at the facility wouldn't let her in because they were unable to verify her appointment.
Cassidy said the staff even called her – "I was on the golf course," she said – to see if she knew who Lightfoot was. "It was very strange," she said.
Lightfoot has so far declined to comment. Her mother told the Winston-Salem Journal on Friday that Lightfoot is "devastated" by the turn of events.
According to the story, Lightfoot's mother says she has been living with her for the past few years and does not currently hold a paying job. Her nonprofit brought in less than $7,000 last year.
Still, Lightfoot had money to contribute to political campaigns. According to State Board of Elections records, she made more than $1,100 in contributions last year: $755 to the Forsyth County Republican Party, $100 to Forsyth Republican Women and $250 to the McCrory campaign.
McCrory's press office won't say whether the governor or his staff recommended Lightfoot for the job.
"We're referring all questions on this matter to the Department of Health and Human Services," said McCrory's press secretary Crystal Feldman.
DHHS has refused to respond to multiple calls and messages seeking an explanation.