Local News

N.C. Ethics Board To Consider Complaint Against Easley

Posted June 2, 2006

— A community group has accused Gov. Mike Easley in an ethics complaint of giving favorable treatment in a marina lease deal to a pair of developers with business ties to one of his campaign donors.

Perry Newson, executive director of the State Board of Ethics, said Friday that the board will consider the complaint at its meeting Wednesday. He declined additional comment.

Through a spokeswoman, Easley denied the allegations.

Members of a community group in Southport, Easley's hometown, asked the State Board of Ethics in a March 30 letter to review Easley's role in allowing the private investors to take control of the deteriorating state-owned Southport Marina. Members of the Committee to Save Southport Marina had wanted the state to sell the marina to the town.

"We felt like the governor was showing some favoritism toward these people," said Bill Duke, one of the community members who mailed the complaint. "We feel like he's been playing political football with it and he's doing some payback with our marina."

The Council of State, comprised of Easley and the eight other statewide elected officials, agreed to let Raleigh-area investors Tim Smith and Julian "Bubba" Rawl take control of the marina.

Both men have had a business relationship with Wilmington developer Nick Garrett. Garrett has given $8,000 to Easley's gubernatorial campaigns and his construction company performed $200,000 on Easley's Southport home during the governor's first term.

The lease approved by the Council of State in January allows Smith and Rawl to rent the 430-slip marina for up to 40 years. Southport residents criticized Easley for not selling the marina to the town and accused him of giving the developers a generous deal.

Easley spokeswoman Cari Boyce called the complaint a "malicious, petty-minded and outright lie" designed to smear the truth.

"It's people who didn't get their way with the governor," said Easley's advisor Dan Gerlach. "Now, they're trying to make up these lies."

Gerlach argued the allegations are off-base. Critics, including state Auditor Les Merritt and Labor Secretary Cherie Berry, question why Easley didn't disclose his relationship with Garrett. Easley's staff showed WRAL a canceled $200,000 check used for payment. The reason that wasn't disclosed before the marina vote, Gerlach said, is simple.

"There is no involvement by Mr. Garrett," said Gerlach. "I think he was in the picture when it was for sale, but not when it was for lease."

The attorney for the marina investors supported Gerlach's statement with a letter stating Garrett is not involved in the lease.

People may disagree over who controls the Southport marina, but Gerlach said they shouldn't question his boss's ethics.

"This is just a waste of time by people who didn't get their way," he said.

The ethics board members, all of whom were appointed by Easley, will determine whether the complaint is serious enough to warrant a full investigation or dismissal. A board investigator met with those who wrote the letter in Southport, Duke said.

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