Rural Center board freezes ex-director's severance

Posted July 29, 2013

— The 50-member board of the embattled North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center voted Monday to freeze the $242,000 severance package of former director Billy Ray Hall.

Hall's $220,000 annual salary and the severance package were cited in a state audit released two weeks ago that unleashed a firestorm of criticism at the center by Republican state leaders.

Gov. Pat McCrory called for changes at the center, and his budget chief froze the spending of state money by the center and even suggested the state might try to recoup some of the money in the center's accounts.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger pushed for eliminating state funding of the center, and a budget compromise lawmakers approved last week called for creating and funding a Rural Infrastructure Authority within the Department of Commerce instead of the public-private Rural Center.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told the Rural Center board Monday that the mission of helping the economies of rural communities will continue with or without the center.

"What you're not going to see is less support for rural North Carolina," Decker said. "I think what you will see is more support for rural North Carolina. How that looks and how that is executed I can't tell you right now."

The nonprofit Rural Center uses state and federal money to provide grants to support business and infrastructure development in 85 North Carolina counties. State auditors also criticized the center for a lack of oversight of its grants, charging that the organization doesn't verify that grant recipients are using their money for the intended purpose.

The center board voted to create a five-person committee to help shift more than $100 million in state tax money and development grant commitments to the Department of Commerce and determine the future of the center and its 50 employees.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker Commerce secretary says state will continue helping rural economies

"It was really obvious to those of us on the board that the state wants to go in a different direction in rural economic development, and we're going to accommodate that directive," board member Larry Wooten said.

Some board members want to keep interest earned off the public funds to continue limited Rural Center operations. The new committee will determine within the next month whether to dissolve the center or continue some functions.

Board member Kim Griffin, who was appointed by McCrory, pushed for newer members on the transition committee.

"Why not have some fresh, fresh ideas and some new thoughts on how to correct the ship?" Griffin asked.

Chairwoman Valeria Lee defended the Rural Center's history of helping struggling communities, and she remained defiant toward McCrory's call for her resignation.

"What can I say other than I think the Rural Center has done a very good job over the years," she said.

Lee said Hall deserves to receive his severance package, but board members said they first want to gather more information about the package and any potential tax implications before deciding whether to give him the money.


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  • arfamr1008 Aug 5, 2013

    The state will be rolling in cash by the time all te democrat corruption is cleaned up. Good job NC GOP

  • Tide4ever Aug 4, 2013

    I would think they weren't tracking things that close so a little bit of "gravy" might spill on their own plates...just saying.

  • SnupeLyin Jul 31, 2013

    I will agree that getting a severence package that you co-wrote is wrong. But the way the GOP is doing things they will replace the committee and the same issues will still go on.

    And is anyone who lives in a rural county making negative remarks about this? Speak from experience and not ignorance.

  • waltindurham Jul 30, 2013

    Too much self-dealing, too little accountability. Close it down.


  • scnewton Jul 30, 2013

    Why ask for M's Lee resignation ? Tell her she's FIRED !!

  • sceeter Jul 29, 2013

    the point being; the audit turned up supposedly the Rural Center dispersed funds BUT did not track nor follow up nor review much of what they dispersed...

    also, Mr. Hall's salary isn't really the question here - though it found allegedly to be higher than comparable personnel.

    The concern is that, in addition to his State Retirement account... he will also assumedly receive a HUGE severance payout, nearly equal to that of his annual salary.. that allegedly - per the audit - he and others working alongside him in the Rural Center, set up some time back and money has been put into it over time.

    This doesn't leave a good image in the layperson's mind, especially when there is so large an unemployment base looking for jobs within those rural counties & elsewhere... that supposedly received some grants and/or funding in part or parcel.. to draw and/or develop businesses..

  • SomeRandomGuy Jul 29, 2013

    "Did I read that right? 50 member board? No wonder they were able to get away with it, and no wonder that nothing ever got done."

    Yep, that's what caught my attention too, along with the 50 employees that work there. One board member for every employee...

  • drjones74 Jul 29, 2013

    Well...I have worked closely with numerous Rural Center front line employees over the years and can tell you they are all honest, good hard working people. Billy Ray is probably making too much money, but they do good work over there. Plus, the way the flow of tax money works, the rural communities are getting back much more than they pay out in taxes...essentially cities have been subsidizing this program to help the good folks in rural NC. I am guessing most of you fire breathers hail from rural counties....?

  • ripetomatoes Jul 29, 2013

    Chairwoman Valeria Lee defended the Rural Center's history of helping struggling communities, and she remained defiant toward McCrory's call for her resignation.
    "What can I say other than I think the Rural Center has done a very good job over the years," she said.

    Untracked taxpayer money probably being funneled to friends and family by yet another state employee.

    This lady can't even account for the end results of the disbursements of the tax money that were ultimately her responsibility...

    When your resignation is requested, it means your superiors believe you are deficient in some or maybe even all of the required abilities to produce the necessary results of your position.

    I hope this is goodbye for Ms. Lee.

  • aspenstreet1717 Jul 29, 2013

    Close the Rural Center. wasted enough taxpayer cash.