Gov. Bev Perdue has tapped Dempsey Benton, a former Raleigh city manager, to run the Employment Security Division of the Commerce Department.
Benton has become something of a "Mr. Fix It" in state government. Gov. Mike Easley appointed Benton to run the Department of Health and Human Services in 2007 when that agency was having trouble. In 2009, Perdue put him in charge of the office overseeing federal stimulus spending in North Carolina.
The Employment Security Division has become the subject of intense scrutiny in recent months in part due to the $2.8 billion debt to the federal government racked up to pay unemployment claims. The division's last leader, Lynn Holmes, was unpopular with legislative leaders.
From the governor's office:
Gov. Bev Perdue and Sec. Keith Crisco today announced that Dempsey Benton will become the Assistant Secretary of Employment Security at the N.C. Department of Commerce. The Division was formerly known as the Employment Security Commission before being merged into the Department of Commerce on Nov. 1, 2011.
“Dempsey Benton brings the skill and experience to oversee this important division,” said Gov. Perdue. “His many years of strong fiscal management will be a tremendous asset as we continue to recover from the worst recession in our lifetimes.”
At the Division of Employment Security, Benton will be responsible for overseeing the state’s unemployment insurance system. This includes all aspects of claim determination, employer account management and legal enforcement of employment security law.
“Dempsey’s experience with managing programs with high volumes of federal funds and a large number of transactions will be beneficial for the division,” said Crisco.
In 2009, Benton was appointed by Gov. Perdue to lead the Office of Economic Recovery & Investment. The office coordinated and tracked North Carolina’s handling of federal stimulus funds as well as state-level economic recovery initiatives. Prior to that, Benton served as the Secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services from August 2007 to January 2009 and as Chief Deputy Secretary of the state Environment and Natural Resources Department from 2001 until January 2007. Prior to joining state government, Benton served as Raleigh city manager from 1983 to 2000 and as the city’s assistant manager from 1974 to 1983. Before moving to Raleigh, he served as city manager of Elizabeth City and finance director in Rocky Mount.
Benton's top priority will be finding ways to restore the solvency of the Unemployment Trust Fund, Crisco said.
"Dempsey is a person with great experience, someone who has worked at many levels of government. He's a steady hand. He's handled federal programs in the past," he said.
Studies are already underway, and Crisco said he hopes to have recommended changes ready for lawmakers by the short session starting in May.