Rural Center controversy topples chairwoman

Posted July 31, 2013

— The fallout of a recent state audit that excoriated the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center continued Wednesday with the resignation of the nonprofit's chairwoman.

Valeria Lee, who remained defiant toward calls for her to step down as recent as two days ago, told fellow board members in an email that she was leaving so the Rural Center could move forward.

"For the Rural Center and everyone it touches, the past few months have been incredibly difficult," Lee wrote. "My goal as chair during this period was to create a process and plan to move our mission forward. The transition team is in place to do that, and we can hope soon to have a clear path for the future."

Kim Genardo, spokeswoman for the governor's office, said Gov. Pat McCrory considers Lee's resignation "a step in the right direction."

The nonprofit Rural Center uses state and federal money to provide grants to support business and infrastructure development in 85 North Carolina counties.

Two weeks ago, state auditors 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. Lee denies that allegation.

"My real regret is that the good work that has been done has been diminished by what has come forward as an accusation that somehow there was impropriety at the Rural Center," she said. "To my knowledge, that has not been the case."

Auditors also questioned the salaries paid to President Billy Ray Hall and several vice presidents, saying they were excessive when compared with similar programs elsewhere.

Hall resigned a day after the audit came out, and McCrory's 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.

Last week, lawmakers approve a budget that eliminated all state funding to the Rural Center, instead calling for the creation of a Rural Infrastructure Authority within the Department of Commerce to handle its duties.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, supported that measure.

"There has been a lot of good done, but it has been done in the wrong way and based upon political favoritism," Stam said Wednesday. 

The center's board on Monday named 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.

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.


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  • SurvivorOne Aug 4, 2013

    Not only her but others also, cheated, stole, lied and in general BROKE THE LAW ! ! They need to give all monies and salaries back, then be sent to prison for a min of 25 years !!!!!
    Lying cheating warts! ALL DNA's !!!!!!!

  • bjraper Aug 1, 2013

    I think effort should be taken to find out where all that unaccounted money went. You can bet it just didn't disappear in thin air. If the truth was know, it probably ended up in someone's personal bank account. I guess we will never know, because white collar thief's seem to get away with stealing, especially when it's government money. This is tax money, and should be investigated when it's discovered it has not been properly been accounted for. Good job Audit department, keep up the good work. Thank you, Governor McCrory, for sweeping out the trash.

  • djofraleigh Aug 1, 2013

    "topples" Did she fall out of her chair? Creative headline. She resigned.

  • Pooter McGooter Aug 1, 2013

    I love the fact that she did something illegal and it's billed as a "controversy" from which she was "toppled." I guess if you belong to the right segment of society, the media is willing to go easy on you.

  • Euro American Aug 1, 2013

    Thought it said topless chairwoman at fist...

  • superman Aug 1, 2013

    Close the center and give it to the people who dont have children and pay all the taxes for welfare education.

  • Karmageddon Aug 1, 2013

    "The center's board on Monday named a five-person committee to help shift more than $100 million in state tax money and development grant commitments to the Department of Commerce "

    Shift that money to Education and stop giving it away

  • Karmageddon Aug 1, 2013

    "she said. "To my knowledge, that has not been the case."

    Well, that was probably true. They didn't know where any of the money was spent.

  • Pooter McGooter Aug 1, 2013

    lprop: "If a peron is dishonest he/she is simply a dishonest person. Republican or Democrat has nothing to do with honesty of any person. Judge by their actions not by their label."

    Never does when it's a Democratic. John Edwards, Meg Scott Phipps, Mike Easily, Jim Black, Frank Ballance. Nope, nothing behind the curtain here folks, let's all just move on, shall we?

  • Corporal Snark Aug 1, 2013

    "Where were the fiscal hawks when we spend $1.5 Billion USD every other day invading and occupying the wrong country?"

    I realize that it might be a difficult concept for an independent thinker such as yourself to grasp, but the budget of the State of North Carolina and the budget allocated to the United States Department of Defense are wholly separate things.