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Phipps Steps Down From Post; Easley Names Interim Ag Commissioner

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After months of controversy involving her election campaign and state fair contracts, State Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps resigned on Friday.

Phipps drafted her

letter of resignation

at 7 a.m. and her attorneys submitted it to Gov. Mike Easley's office around 11:45 a.m. Friday. In it, she wrote,

"I am sad for myself and for all my colleagues at thedepartment," Phipps, the daughter and granddaughter of past NorthCarolina governors, wrote to Easley. "I am grateful for having hadthe opportunity to work with you and the other members of theCouncil of State on behalf of the people of North Carolina.

"It has been an honor and a privilege. I will miss all ofyou."

Attorney Wade Smith said the federal investigation into election fraud and indictments of her top aides finally took their toll on Phipps.

"She thought this through with great care and felt that she couldn't just do her job well with all the swirl of events around her," he said.

Phipps also had a statement along with her resignation, which was read by her lawyer, Roger Smith.

"It is now clear that it is in the best interests of my family, my friends, colleagues at the department of Agriculture and the entire North Carolina farming community that I resign my post. I am humbled that I have served the people of North Carolina and proud of what we have accomplished. I am sorry that we have come to this moment. I am grateful for the incredible outpouring of support that has come from people all over North Carolina. I look forward to a time of reflection with my husband and children."

Gov. Mike Easley, who had called for Phipps to resign weeks ago, said in a statement, "This is the right decision for the people of North Carolina and North Carolina agriculture. I will work to ensure that the Department of Agriculture will run smoothly and efficiently to serve the people of this state without interruption."

Easley has not yet announced a replacement for Phipps, but he named W. Britt Cobb, a 30-year veteran of the state Agriculture Department, as interim commissioner. A couple of names have been mentioned as possibilities for the vacant position, including current Revenue Secretary Norris Tolson, state Senate Agriculture Chair Charlie Albertson and former state Sen. Oscar Harris.

Alice Graham Underhill, the daughter of former Ag Commissioner Jim Graham, announced plans Thursday to run for state Ag Commissioner in the next election. She announced Friday that she still plans to run for office.

"This is a sad day for Commissioner Phipps and her family. My thoughts and prayers are with her," she said. "This must be really hard, because she obviously cares deeply about farmers, and the land and North Carolina."

Phipps' resignation comes after Deputy Ag Commissioner Mike Blanton was indicted on 10 federal counts ranging from perjury to witness tampering. He is the third aide to Phipps to face federal charges.

Last year, the state Board of Elections found that Phipps' campaign violated state law by taking $84,202 in cash from donors it could not identify and more than $14,000 in illegal corporate contributions. The board fined the campaign $130,000.

Linda Saunders and Bobby McLamb, who helped in Phipps' campaign, have both pleaded guilty to federal charges includingextortion. They are cooperating in the investigation and have notyet been sentenced.

Federal officials have not filed any charges against Phipps.

"We, of course, are alert for it, but we don't have any indication either way whether she will be indicted," Smith said.

Opinions on Phipps' resignation are varied on North Carolina farms.

"If it were me, I wouldn't have resigned. I would have fought it to the bitter end," farmer Jady Beasley said. "[From] what I see, she's done a good job there. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"Well, it really doesn't make any difference to me. I kind of hate to see her go, but if that's what she wants, it's fine," farmer Roger Allen said. "Some people like her. Some people don't. It's a matter of opinion."

Barbara Allen, chairwoman of the state Democratic party, said in a statement, "We respect the decision that Meg Scott Phipps has made to resign as Commissioner of Agriculture. Clearly, it was not an easy decision but one that is in the best interests of the people of North Carolina and the North Carolina Democratic Party. We wish her and her family well in the months and years to come."

On Thursday, Phipps' father, former North Carolina Gov. BobScott, was called to testify before the federal grand jury. He refused to comment Friday on his testimony or his daughter's resignation.

Local Stories About Phipps, Resignation


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