Local Politics

E-mail: Easley involved in wife's hiring

Posted June 8, 2009 1:19 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2009 11:31 p.m. EDT

— E-mail communication released Monday by North Carolina State University shows that former Gov. Mike Easley participated in conversations in 2005 that led to his wife getting a job at the university.

The e-mails and other N.C. State records of Mary Easley's hiring were turned over to a federal grand jury investigating the former governor's dealings with friends and contributors while in office.

Dan Gerlach, a top aide to Mike Easley, began inquiring about a teaching job for Mary Easley in late April 2005, saying "people up the food chain" didn't know about his conversations with N.C. State officials.

Gerlach told WRAL News on Monday that the former governor asked him to make inquiries on behalf of Mary Easley because Gerlach had taught political science courses at N.C. State for years. Gerlach used his personal e-mail account in correspondence with the head of the political science department.

Gerlach said Mike Easley asked him "Is there anybody over there you could talk to? I don't want to make it a big deal, but could you kind of see if there's anything out there?"

"That's why I was trying to be very gently inquiring," he explained.

McQueen Campbell, whom Mike Easley appointed to N.C. State's Board of Trustees, was quickly brought into the talks, and he sent messages to both Chancellor James Oblinger and Provost Larry Nielsen about getting Mary Easley under contract.

In an April 30, 2005, message to Oblinger, Campbell wrote, "The Gov called me back today and Mary is interested and would like to meet with you as soon as possible. ... I'd like to cvhat (sic) with you before you two meet to bring you up to speed on my talks with Easley."

By May 11, 2005, Nielsen and Mary Easley had entered negotiations on a three-year contract and talks were "proceeding famously," according to an e-mail Nielsen sent to Campbell.

Campbell wrote back eight days later, saying "The meeting obviously went well and I chatted with the Gov late last week and he says she's very excited about it and he said if we take this seriouslYJ (sic) which I assured him we were J this could really be a great program for everyone involved."

Mary Easley has served as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer at N.C. State since 2005, developing the Millennium Seminars speakers program and teaching a graduate course in public administration and courses in the Administrative Officers Management Program, which provides leadership training to law enforcement officers.

Last year, she received an 88 percent pay increase, to $170,000 a year. N.C. State officials defended the move, saying she had taken on additional duties, such as directing pre-law services at the university and serving as a liaison to area law firms and law schools at other universities as she developed a dual degree program.

Nielsen and Campbell resigned last month amid questions over their roles in her hiring, and Oblinger submitted his resignation Monday after officials questioned the lucrative payout he negotiated with Nielsen as he transitioned into a faculty position.

N.C. State Faculty Senate Chairman Jim Martin said Monday he doesn't believe administrators' claims that their involvement in Mary Easley's hiring was inconsequential.

"Any hiring at that level would be understood and known about by the chancellor (and) the higher-ups in the system. We are only talking about the first lady," Martin said.

Gerlach said he doesn't think any "undue political influence" was used in the case.

"I have never put anybody in a situation where you need to hire this person – you need to do that – nor do I believe there was any pressure put on in this instance," he said.

"It's not like you're going to sneak a lady with the name 'Easley' in somewhere. They all knew she was the first lady," he said. "I think the university was very excited to get somebody like Mary Easley on the faculty."

Like Gerlach, University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles said Monday that he didn't think there was any wrongdoing in Mary Easley's hiring. Four years ago, he said, Mary Easley was considered "a star" who could use her connections to raise N.C. State's national profile.

"People thought she could do a lot of good," he said. "She's a bright, talented woman."

Bowles said the e-mails "made me feel sick" because of the extent of Oblinger's involvement. He said he didn't know anything more about Mike Easley's association beyond what he read in the messages.