Local Politics

Watchdog calls on Perdue to clean up state government

Posted November 18, 2009 6:03 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2009 7:12 p.m. EST

— As a federal grand jury continues investigating former Gov. Mike Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office, a political watchdog says Gov. Beverly Perdue needs to take steps to restore confidence in state government.

"If we get executive leadership, we usually get results," said Joe Sinsheimer, whose complaints prompted campaign finance investigations of former House Speaker Jim Black and former state Rep. Thomas Wright.

Sinsheimer sent a letter to Perdue Wednesday asking her to halt the permits for a planned cement plant near Wilmington for 90 days and ask Attorney General Roy Cooper to investigate whether any political pressure has influenced the environmental permitting process.

Opponents of the $469 million Titan America LLC plant along the Cape Fear River in Castle Hayne have said the company has tried to bypass emissions restrictions. They also noted the close ties Titan lobbyist John Merritt has to Easley.

Merritt, a former Easley aide and current law partner, has denied any wrongdoing.

"Make sure that there's been no undue influence to date. The decision the Easley administration made to exempt that plant from the state environmental permitting process is nonsensical," Sinsheimer said.

He cited recent evidence in a State Board of Elections hearing into Easley's campaign finances, where campaign staffers were soliciting large donations from real estate developers at the same time as the developers were seeking permits for coastal projects.

"It's pretty clear that there were two environmental permitting processes in this state. There was the regular permitting process going on, and then there was the fast track for political insiders, for campaign donors," he said.

Perdue said there was no immediate plan to freeze any permits, but she said she would refer the matter to the proper authorities.

"I'd have to have the attorney general or a team of state lawyers tell me that there's an apparent legal reason that the permit should be delayed because I don't want to get in the middle of another lawsuit," she said.

Sinsheimer also called on Perdue to release all investigative reports on missing records for Easley's travel.

The State Highway Patrol, which handles security for the governor, turned over its records to the federal grand jury in May, but all records for 2005 were missing. The patrol conducted an internal investigation but released only a four-page summary that cleared the former chief of security of wrongdoing.

Perdue said details of the missing records are tied up in the grand jury's investigation, abut she promised to release the information eventually.

“It’s a public document. Everything will be made public the moment I have it in my hands,” she said.

Sinsheimer also said that former Easley lawyer Ruffin Poole should be removed from the Golden LEAF board of directors. The Rocky Mount-based foundation uses money from the nationwide tobacco litigation settlement to fund economic development projects.

Poole fought a subpoena seeking his testimony in the elections board's hearing into Easley's campaign finance. Sinsheimer said that shows Poole doesn't meet the "highest ethical standards" the foundation should maintain because it is doling out millions of dollars.