McCrory appoints chief of staff's wife to Industrial Commission
Posted December 16, 2016
Updated December 18, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has appointed Yolanda Stith, the wife of his chief of staff, to serve on the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
"I am first of all a child of God," Stith said to both the House Rules Committee and the Senate Nominations Committee on Friday.
She reviewed her resume that includes having worked as an insurance underwriter and owning a preschool. Stith currently serves as executive director at the North Carolina Association of Long Term Care Facilities, a position that made her an industry representative at the same time her husband served as McCrory's top adviser.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, asked Stith to explain what public service experience she had.
"I have served eight years in my sorority at a leadership level," Stith replied. "I am currently the president of my chapter, which has over 240 women."
That sorority, she said, helps people with economic security and health initiatives.
Industrial commissioners earn more than $127,000 per year. The commission is a quasi-judicial body that settles workers compensation questions and other differences between employers and employees, as well as handling tort claims against the state.
Stith is not a lawyer.
Spokesmen for McCrory didn't respond to request for comment Friday afternoon. In a news release issued later in the day, McCrory thanked the General Assembly for confirming her appointment.
"Not only does she bring diversity to the commission, but her experience as a business owner and executive will be valuable as she takes on this new responsibility," McCrory said.
McCrory will leave office in January after losing his seat in a bitterly fought re-election campaign to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Stith's appointment came mid-morning, shortly after a bill that contained language that will allow her to serve a full six-year term passed the General Assembly, and she was confirmed before the legislative session adjourned for the year in mid-afternoon.
"It's hard not to see this as good ol' boy patronage," said Jane Pinsky, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
Stith's nomination passed 28-5 in the Senate and 63-19 in the House. It came as the House and the Senate wrapped up a controversial special session that saw them limit Cooper's ability to make certain appointments. Critics saw Stith's appointment to the commission as a potential carrot to get McCrory to sign a bill that he might otherwise have balked at.
It is hardly the first time the wife of a high-profile figure has been appointed to a state office.
For example, in 2009, Gov. Mike Easley's wife, Mary Easley was the subject of scrutiny due her job as "executive in residence" at NC State University. The circumstances of her hiring and six-figure salary lead to the resignation or firing of three campus officials and news reports from the time suggested the job had been "orchestrated at the highest levels of state government," including with input from one of Easley's top aides.
That said, during hastily called hearings before the House Rules Committee and Senate Nominations Committee, no member asked Stith about the fact she was married to McCrory's chief of staff, Thomas Stith.
When approached after those hearings, Yolanda Stith declined to speak to WRAL News.
"Sir, I am not going to answer any of your questions at this point. The process is not complete," she said.
At that point, the full Senate was less than a half-hour away from giving her nomination final approval.
Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, put forward her nomination in the Senate floor. When asked if her marriage could pose a conflict of interest for her or the governor, he said, "Yolanda is a constituent of mine and an old friend."
Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, said he believes the appointment was problematic.
"I think it's a very clear question of conflict, and I'm not sure what consideration was given to that," Hall said.
House Speaker Tim Moore described Stith as "an accomplished lady" and said he saw no problem with the appointment.
"Whether or not she was married to Thomas Stith or not, we would have confirmed her anyway," he said.