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Third Lottery Commissioner Steps Down, Citing Potential Conflict

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A third member of the state Lottery Commission has stepped down, citing a potential conflict of interest _ a reasoning that left North Carolina's top ethics official wondering Tuesday if commissioners now are being overly cautious about avoiding perceptions of outside influence.

Gordon Myers, a former vice president of the Asheville-based Ingles Markets grocery store chain, resigned late Monday in a letter to commission chairman Charles Sanders. State law requires one commission member to have retail experience, but the very experience that qualified Myers for the panel also troubled him, since Ingles may seek to sell tickets once the lottery comes online.

"Not knowing the issues relating to retail sales that might arise, I find myself unable to participate in the commission's workings on the very segment of business I was appointed to represent," Myers wrote. He did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking additional comment.

Perry Newson, who first pointed out the potential conflict and serves as the executive director of the State Board of Ethics, said Myers could have performed his duties without a problem as long as he used caution.

"I hope he didn't get criticized off the commission because of it," Newson said.

Newson said an unscientific sample of appointees to state boards and commissions he reviews found that roughly 40 percent had the potential for a conflict, "but they haven't done anything wrong." He said lawmakers often intentionally create the potential for a conflict by requiring someone with industry experience sit on the board that regulates the industry.

Last month, in a filing required of appointees, Myers said he had at least $10,000 in Ingles stock, as well as salary and dividends. He had pledged to recuse himself from commission actions or votes involving Ingles, which like all retailers that decide to sell lottery tickets stands to receive 7 percent of sales.

But Myers told Sanders in his resignation letter it was better to step aside "given the absolute need for transparency in all actions on this commission and the need for all commission members to fully engage in the important process."

Sanders said Tuesday the work of the lottery commission would continue despite Myers' departure. He pondered whether anyone with significant retail experience could be found to accept the position.

"It may be that we'll have somebody that has the scantiest of retail experience to meet that requirement," he said. "The perception of conflict is something that (Myers) didn't want to live (with)."

Another member of the nine-member commission to resign, Kevin Geddings of Charlotte, did so hours before it was disclosed that he had been paid $24,500 by a potential vendor for work performed this year as lawmakers debated lottery legislation.

House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, who appointed both Myers and Geddings, said in a statement he was disappointed to see Myers go since he "brought a wealth of retail and business experience to the lottery commission."

The first commissioner to leave the panel named in September, Malachi Greene of Charlotte, said he didn't have the time or energy to serve on the commission. Greene's apparent replacement, Shirley Frye of Greensboro, quickly withdrew her name after learning her husband's law practice had clients that could create a conflict of interest.

Myers remains chairman of the board of AdvantageWest, which promotes economic development in western North Carolina.

AdvantageWest is one of seven such partnerships that is assisted by the North Carolina Economic Development Group, whose lobbyist is Meredith Norris. Until recently, she served as Black's unpaid political aide. Norris also worked for Scientific Games Corp., the same lottery vendor that hired Geddings.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Geddings, Norris, Scientific Games and a company executive violated the state's lobbying law.

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