NCDOT second-in-command Jim Trogdon told lawmakers today that an advisor to Governor Bev Perdue pushed a DOT deputy secretary to put Trogdon's signature on a letter that misrepresented his position.
At a hearing this morning, Trogdon told Senate leaders he was out of his office for a National Guard obligation June 14th. That's when Perdue advisor Pryor Gibson came in with a draft letter he said had to be sent to lawmakers immediately.
Deputy Secretary Susan Coward said she would sign it on her boss’s behalf. But Trogdon said Gibson didn't accept that.
The document was originally signed by the deputy secretary for me, or was proposed to be signed by her for me," Trogdon told the committee.
"Mr. Gibson stated that it had to come from my signature," he said. "The letters were then digitally signed."
Trogdon said Coward, who reports to him, was put in "a very difficult position."
Asked if Coward felt pressured, Trogdon agreed. "Because of the deadline: '10:45 - we must respond. We have to respond.'"
Trogdon said he didn't know why the deadline was so tight. "That's fairly inconsistent," he said.
"When I got [the draft of the letter] on the 12th, there was no timeline needed. As we developed, or the staff developed, the drafts, there was no timeline needed," he said. "So I have no idea what caused the urgency at the time."
The Senate was scheduled to debate the budget at 11:00am, Thursday, June 14th. But that was hardly a surprise. The Senate budget came out Monday, June 11th, and leaders were transparent about their schedule for moving the bill to a floor vote.
Trogdon had taken an opposing position regarding the two projects mentioned in the letter. Still, he said Coward thought he would have approved the letter, based on what Gibson told her.
"She's known him for 20 years and trusted his statement and judgment." Trogdon told reporters. "In this case, that judgment was flat wrong."
Trogdon said Gibson had wrongly interpreted a budget provision and an earlier letter from Trogdon, telling lawmakers the two projects wouldn't need funding this year because the likely to face lawsuits.
The change Gibson pushed referenced the possibility that those lawsuits wouldn't come to pass, in which case the projects might need the funding after all. But even without a lawsuit, Trogdon said, the projects wouldn't need the funding this year.
Trogdon wouldn't speculate on Gibson’s motivations.
"None of our staff had any desire or indication that they were trying to mislead anyone," he told reporters. "They thought it was factual, based on its face value. However, they did not know everything that I know about all the other projects."
Regardless of the Senate's findings, Trogdon said his department won't make that mistake again. "The conclusion, and everyone understands that today, is speed cannot take priority over accuracy. So if you can't verify the accuracy, you must delay the implementation."
Perdue's office didn't comment on Trogdon's statement.
Advisor Pryor Gibson is scheduled to offer his side of the story to Senate Rules Thursday at 9:00am. We'll have that video stream for you here on wral.com.