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State Auditor's Moonlighting Raises Eyebrows

Posted March 13, 2007

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— State Auditor Les Merritt, who is charged with weeding out conflict of interest in state government, is facing questions after announcing he is taking a second job.

A public relations firm issued a press release Tuesday stating that Merritt and his son, Dale, have formed a retirement planning service. The release prominently noted Les Merritt's state position.

Merritt said he doesn't view the private job as a conflict, noting he received a state Ethics Commission opinion two years ago that cleared the way for outside work and he has publicly disclosed it. But he admitted it was a mistake to trumpet his position in the release, and he ordered the PR firm to retract it.

"You're not supposed to use your job as state auditor in promoting something else. So, that is a mistake," he said. "There's no problem with (private employment). It's just a matter of how you do it."

But some lawmakers and government watchdogs questioned why Merritt, who earns more than $115,000 a year in his elected position, needs a second job.

"I think he's got some explaining to do. I just don't understand what's going on," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.

Lawmakers said voters see Council of State positions like the state auditor as full-time jobs.

"They don't expect these folks to be spending their time building other businesses on the side," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.

"It sure seems to me improper to try to use that for commercial purposes while you are state auditor," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford.

Members of the Ethics Commission couldn't be reached for comment on Merritt's press release or business venture.

"I do understand if any office is going to be looked at, it's the State Auditor's Office. We have to be very careful, and I will be," Merritt said.


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  • shell1895 Mar 15, 2007

    We are talking about "auditing the state" RIGHT? I have heard about so many things he has found wrong, way more than I have ever heard from the auditors before him. I have known Les my whole life (37 years) and fully trust his judgement in every way. You couldnt ask for a better man for that job. He is honest and I trust his judgement. Do you people have nothing better to do with your time. If this means so much to you and you think you know what needs to be done 24/7 on this job, then why aren't you the state auditor? It is so easy for you to sit back and point the finger. He is doing his job, and a whole lot better than the ones before him. Les I am very proud of you and what you are doing for our state! Thank you Les,
    Michelle Andrews Hunt

    Just a thought......are any of the negative posters on here working for the government...Get em Les....

  • IceCreamMan Mar 14, 2007

    Mulvay - if you have to ask then you're just not smart enough to understand. It's very clearly a conflict of interest.

  • mulvay8888 Mar 14, 2007

    What does retirement planning services have to do with auditing state government with respect to looking for conflict of interest????

  • IceCreamMan Mar 14, 2007

    "A conflict of interest is a situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a lawyer, a politician, executive or director of a corporation or a medical research scientist or physician, has competing professional or personal interests. Such competing interests can make it difficult to fulfill his or her duties impartially. Even if there is no evidence of improper actions, a conflict of interest can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the ability of that person to use his/her position with proper ethics."

    Yup, this situations fits the definition to a T.

  • superman Mar 14, 2007

    Sorry dude-- but dealing with audits and dealing with investments-- go hand in hand. Money is money. It might look better if he sold "used cars". I see it clearly as a conflict of interest-

  • IceCreamMan Mar 14, 2007

    As a public servant and a watchdog for NC consumers, Les Merritt should not be actively participating in a business as a fiduciary advisor to clients. It gives the appearance that this particular organization is endorsed by the state government and/or is somehow more trustworthy than others in the field.

    And it absolutely reeks of Les helping his boy with his elected position title.

    This is the very definition of conflict of interest.

  • ttc248 Mar 14, 2007

    Full time does not mean 24/7. Business hours comprise his workday with the State. Who cares why he wants to have an outside business. Many of our legislators have outside interests, own businesses, etc. It appears we are going overboard in judgements. If he were volunteering, no one would care. Why the double standard.

  • JDPike Mar 14, 2007

    This man is an elected official, so what happens when he decides he doesn't want to run for his next term or if he doesn't get re-elected? He is setting up a way to provide for his family in the future, and I see nothing wrong with that.

  • cpadonald Mar 14, 2007

    Enough is enough; Les Merritt is an honest man. But Les’ problem is that it seems no one will step forward and state that fact publicly. I have found that when a man defends himself it comes across as self glorification, praising their on virtues, so someone who knows Les needs to defend and state his virtues. I am not the man to do this, but I find myself in the position of saying “Enough is Enough.” I have know Les for over 20 years and I worked for and with Les in the 80’s, I know his virtues, I know what he stands for and I have always admired his dedication to the community and to the people of this Great State.

    Les was reared on a Tobacco Farm in Sampson County, and if anyone knows anything about Tobacco they know that farming this crop is extremely labor intense. It is not uncommon for tobacco farmers in the 60’s to get up at 3:00 in the morning to begin the harvest process. Les comes from a strong, work ethic. He was never a 9:00 to 5:00 type of individuals.

  • ColeFan Mar 14, 2007

    Performing audits on government agencies is TOTALLY different than giving investment advice to private citizens.

    The Ethics board already decided on the issue.