State News

Ethics Commission, state auditor trade jabs

Posted September 26, 2008

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— Using words like "sham" and "bogus," the chairman of the North Carolina State Ethics Commission fired back Friday at State Auditor Les Merritt over his investigation of the panel.

Merritt’s office blasted the Ethics Commission last month for trying to block the investigation, which involves allegations the commission gave preferential treatment to Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue.

He released an unusual interim report of the probe, which he said the commission has hampered by its unwillingness to provide records and to allow interviews with its staff. The report called those barriers an apparent violation of state law.

"We know of no situation in which a state agency refused to cooperate, refused access to persons and records and filed a lawsuit to block access and transparency," the interim report said. "There are important questions that must be fully reviewed and resolved with full disclosure."

Ethics Commission Chairman Robert Farmer said Friday that Merritt's "conduct exemplifies his total contempt for the rule of law."

"It's a document riddled with bogus and spurious allegations," Farmer said of the interim report.

According to reports, a staffer for Perdue was given unusual private access to an economic interest statement in the ethics office. Amanda Thaxton, an administrative assistant in the office, questioned the move and was later fired.

The commission sued Merritt in August, saying that by state law, the General Assembly must investigate the panel because the auditor's office has a conflict of interest. Merritt's top investigator, Frank Perry, worked for the ethics panel until last year.

The auditor's office has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. Merritt, in a prepared statement released with the report, said, "The ethics commission is attempting to conceal the facts of this case from the public" with the lawsuit.

Farmer said Merritt's investigation is a pretext for accessing confidential files, noting he has tried to obtain computer files and e-mail records from the commission and has interviewed commission employees.

"The Ethics Commission welcomes any legitimate and unbiased investigation," Farmer said in a statement. "By releasing this bogus report, we now understand that his goal was to never let anyone else investigate because it would not accomplish his goal of illegally confiscating our confidential files."

Merritt called Farmer's statement "harsh rhetoric" and said it only raises questions.

"The taxpayers have really got a right to know what's there that they're trying to hide, if there is something," he said.

"The facts are that the Ethics Commission staff has sued to block the state auditor’s investigation into the altering of public records, special treatment for high-level government aides and the potential retaliatory firing of a commission employee for exposing the possible cover-up," he said in a statement.

The commission and Merritt's office already had locked horns this year when the Democratic-led legislature passed a law in July narrowing the auditor's role in ethics investigations and stating the ethics commission's pre-eminence on those matters.

The commission cites the revised law in its lawsuit, asking that a judge order Merritt to back off.

"Everyone is subject to audit by the auditor," said Pressly Millen, an attorney in Merritt's office. "(The lawsuit is) a complete and total aberration – something that's never happened before, to my knowledge."

The auditor, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, had in May defended his conflict-of-interest investigation of state Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.


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  • pbjbeach Sep 26, 2008

    What can you say jsut the usual corrupt pol's on both sides the audtors office needs to take a deep look into the operations an files an payments to contractors with regards to payments for highway construction projects an why are contractor being allowed to be paid for bad non-speceficiation work when the ncdiot specs plainly state that contractors are not to be paid for non- speceficiation work an that bad work is to be replace repaired at no cost to the department of transportation thus meaning the taxpayers of north carolina

  • whatusay Sep 26, 2008

    Looks like the Ethics Commission is affraid of something. Why does the Ethics Commission think they above being audited? If they have confidention files that contain information that would prove they are corrupt we need to up your hidden/confidential files and let the people paying your salary see what you are hiding.

  • davidgnews Sep 26, 2008

    Go Les! You'll find a way. They all need to be exposed, regardless of party (although in this state you can pretty well make the guess).

  • GoHeels1969 Sep 26, 2008

    Also, apparently the Judge can't understand the law. It specifically prevents the Auditor (and only the auditor) from auditing an agency at which the Auditor worked. Given Farmer's claim, the Auditor's Office would be prohibited from auditing virtually any state agency since there are employees that have worked at almost every state agency previously.

  • GoHeels1969 Sep 26, 2008

    Someone needs to explain what "confidential" means to former Judge Farmer. The auditors look at confidential information all the time--tax records, personnel files, legal agreements, economic development leads, etc. There is nothing in the law that prevents the auditors from looking at any confidential information though they are sometimes prevented from reporting on it.

    Further, did Farmer say what was bogus about the auditor's findings? Is he claiming that the Ethics Commission did allow auditors accesst to persons and records? Is he claiming that 2 other independent agencies did not cite the Ethics Commission for its lack of policies? Is he claiming that they did not violate their own policy which stated that records must be viewed with "reasonable supervision"? Is he claiming that the Assistant Director did not delete some information? Is he claiming that they did not fire an employee who reported these instances?

  • Beachnut Sep 26, 2008

    This story, along with the recent Sewell debacle should chum the waters nicely for Bev's final debate. I thought I'd seen enough, but I think I'll tune in for one more. The best of reality TV!

  • Doctor Dataclerk Sep 26, 2008

    The corrupt Dems in NC sure hate Merritt. He sticks his nose into uncomfortable places for them. If North Carolinians don't throw out Perdue and company, we are too stupid for our own good. I would vote for a space alien or an illegal alien before I would vote for her and her corrupt bunch.

  • Tired_of_LIBERALS Sep 26, 2008

    This is the first year that I will be voting straight ticket Republican! The liberals have gotten COMPLETELY out of control and openly corrupt. No more liberals for me!

  • Tired_of_LIBERALS Sep 26, 2008

    The contractors must have misspelled the department name - kinda like the convention center misspelling... It isn't the "Ethics Commission", it is the "No Ethics Commission."

  • tgw Sep 26, 2008

    As the WONDERFUL add on TV states-status quo!!! Of course, the legislature does not want the Auditor's Office messing with them. Les Merritt caanot be bought like the Legislature's own ethics commission. After all, the Legislative Commission will simply call Manteo (Marc Basnight)or Fayetteville (Tony Rand-Marc's #1 hatchet man) to ask what to do. Kinda like the fox and the hen house, you know the story. Well, our current crop of corrupt Democrats and some moderate Republicans are getting to many eggs (our money) out of the hen house.

    Yet, these crooks will probably be re-elected because-it's your guys fault. My guy is wonderful. BS-throw them ALL out. Start from scratch.

    Oh, let's make sure Mrs. Status Quo goes home to New Bern and stays there. We don't need her stupidity in the Governor's office.