Local Politics

Auditor: Probe into Mary Easley's raise was flawed

Posted July 14, 2009 6:38 p.m. EDT

— State Auditor Beth Wood on Tuesday defended her decision to halt a probe into Mary Easley's $170,000 annual salary at North Carolina State University, saying the audit was inaccurate.

A federal grand jury in May subpoenaed all records the auditor's office had on Mary Easley's job as part of an investigation into the dealings of former Gov. Mike Easley.

Former State Auditor Les Merritt started looking into Mary Easley's salary after N.C. State gave her a promotion and an 88 percent raise last summer. When Wood, who defeated Merritt in the November election, saw the audit early this year, she found it to be partisan and lacking credibility, including inaccurate comparisons to Easley's salary, she said Tuesday.

Wood said she held back the audit with the intention of getting accurate information and then stepped aside when the federal grand jury started looking into the issue. She maintains that there was no political pressure to block the investigation.

Wood and the Easleys are Democrats, while Merritt is a Republican.

"I'm not trying to protect any Democrats. I was not trying to protect the Easleys. I just wanted a fair, impartial, independent audit so whatever the conclusions were, people could count on the facts," she said.

Frank Perry, the lead investigator for the Easley audit, disputes Wood's claim of partisanship in the report.

"The conduct of the investigators was beyond reproach, and the content and findings of the case were beyond doubt,” said Perry, who no longer works in the auditor's office.

He said he respects Wood's decision not to release the audit publicly, but he doesn't agree with it.

"I believe the audit should have been released," he said. "Mary Easley’s salary was not justified.”