Cooper taps business execs for Commerce, Administration posts

Gov. Roy Cooper continued to add to his cabinet Thursday, naming area business executives to head the departments of Commerce and Administration.

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Matthew Burns
Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper continued to add to his cabinet Thursday, naming area business executives to head the departments of Commerce and Administration.

Tony Copeland, a Hertford native and Duke University graduate, sandwiched time a vice president of Raleigh-based telecommunications company BTI and work as an economic development and site selection lawyer for the Williams Mullen law firm around a stint as deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce.

Machelle Sanders, a Belhaven native and North Carolina State University graduate, led the Research Triangle Park operations for global biopharmaceutical giant Biogen Idec from 2011 to 2015 and also held quality control and management positions at other pharmaceutical companies.

"We are attracting a lot of quality people who've been very successful in the things they've done who want to give some time in public service and who want to make a difference, and I think both Machelle and Tony fall into that category," Cooper said during a news conference.

The Commerce Department was scaled back a few years ago, as former Gov. Pat McCrory and state lawmakers shifted business recruitment operations to a nonprofit public-private partnership. Cooper said he wants Copeland to perform "a quick assessment" of the department's operations, including the partnership.

"We may even bring in some independent expertise to look at the effectiveness of the public-private partnership and how Commerce works as a whole," Cooper said. "We are not going to be spending a lot of time looking inward and figuring out the structure of that department. We're going to make that decision, we're going to put it in place, and we're going to go out and create jobs."

Christopher Chung, chief executive of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, said the organization already is working with the Cooper administration, and "we eagerly await the chance to work with Secretary Copeland as he evaluates the EDPNC's performance over the past two years since the organization's inception."

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he couldn't comment until he learns more about Cooper's plans.

The Department of Administration acts as the business manager for North Carolina state government, overseeing building construction and facility maintenance, purchasing and contracts, managing state vehicles and operating auxiliary services. Cooper said Sanders background in management and quality control would ensure that state operations would run efficiently and effectively.

Under a new state law, Cooper's cabinet nominees must be approved by the state Senate. Cooper has challenged that law in court and said none of his nominees is waiting for a Senate hearing to get to work.

"We have contested constitutionally the authority of the Senate to conduct confirmation hearings. It's clear that these secretaries have full authority to do their jobs until this thing is decided," he said. "They can get to work from Day 1 and start doing the things they need to do."

Berger, R-Rockingham, called it "wise to ensure his nominees to lead our cabinet agencies and make decisions affecting millions of North Carolinians have taken the oath of office to uphold the constitution and state law before they get started." The Senate still plans to hold confirmation hearings, he said.

Cooper said he hopes to have his cabinet fully in place by the end of next week.


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