RALEIGH — March 12, 1996 - 4:29 p.m.
Secretary of State Rufus Edmistenannounced abruptly Tuesday that he will resign from office effective March 31.
Edmisten, who has tallied 27 years of public service, told reporter Jim Axelrod that he would submit a letter of resignation today to Gov. Jim Hunt.
The Secretary of State said he was resigning now to take advantage of legal and business opportunities. He said the decision had nothing to do with a critical state audit of his office that led to ongoing SBI investigation.
Edmisten said his office was running more smoothly than ever.
``During the last seven months, we have worked very diligently to make our department one of the best in state government,'' Edmisten said in a news release. ``I am satisfied that we have proved worthy of the public trust. Of course, my competent and hard-working staff deserves the credit.''
Edmisten announced in December that he would not seek re-election in 1996, but he declined at that time to step down despite critical findings in the state audit.
The audit detailed questionable uses of state funds, and the State Auditor writes that his research uncovered a serious abuse of authority. The 132 page document was forwarded to the District Attorney and the Attorney General to determine whether any criminal charges are warranted.
Specifically, the audit questioned Edmisten's:
Auditors wrote in their report:"Taken together, the findings illustrate a pattern of both unacceptable behavior as well as very lax administrative practices."
When Edmisten announced that he would not seek re-election, he said he would use the remaining time in office to restore credibility to his office, which he claimed had been "unfairly damaged."
"I have made mistakes," Edmisten said. "While most of the allegations and rumors have proven to be false, some real problems were uncovered. I take full responsibility for each and every finding"
Edmisten's public life began in 1964 when he was a staff aide to the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin Jr. In 1974, he was elected state attorney general, a post he held until 1984.
In 1984, he was the Democratic nominee for governor, and in 1988, he was elected secretary of state.
For the latest on this story, watch WRAL-TV5's First News at 5. The Associated Press contributed to this report.