Local Politics

Top state workers could lose out in Perdue administration

Posted November 21, 2008 5:45 p.m. EST
Updated November 21, 2008 6:48 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of state works could soon join North Carolina's swelling ranks of unemployed.

The transition to Governor-elect Beverly Perdue's administration means new management teams will likely be installed at various state agencies, making the 595 exempt state employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor vulnerable to losing their jobs.

"I think that's the biggest thing during transition – most people are afraid of the unknown," said Don Reuter, assistant director of the  state Division of Parks and Recreation.

Reuter has moved through several state agencies since the administration of former Gov. Jim Martin Administration in the 1980s, including serving as public affairs director for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

State workers who take exempt jobs understand political change happens, he said.

"There's a level of risk associated with it. When leadership changes, they have every right to put in the people they want," he said.

Auditor-elect Beth Wood said she plans to replace at least eight top aides to outgoing Auditor Les Merritt. She said she's trying to give those on the way out at least six weeks notice in the tough economy.

"I'm trying to prevent the anxiety and the questions and the rumors that can go on for two months," Wood said.

State workers with at least 10 years of service earn some job protection. Even if they work in an exempt position, state law guarantees them a job comparable to their last pay grade.

Reuter qualifies for those protections, but he said he feels for his colleagues angling for new jobs who worry about what's next, especially with the state unemployment rate hitting 7 percent, the highest rate in almost seven years.

"If you do serve in an appointed position, the job market is not very favorable now," he said. "There's a lot of unknown."