Local News

State Auditor's Moonlighting Raises Eyebrows

Posted March 13, 2007 6:36 p.m. EDT
Updated March 13, 2007 8:09 p.m. EDT

— State Auditor Les Merritt, who is charged with weeding out conflict of interest in state government, is facing questions after announcing he is taking a second job.

A public relations firm issued a press release Tuesday stating that Merritt and his son, Dale, have formed a retirement planning service. The release prominently noted Les Merritt's state position.

Merritt said he doesn't view the private job as a conflict, noting he received a state Ethics Commission opinion two years ago that cleared the way for outside work and he has publicly disclosed it. But he admitted it was a mistake to trumpet his position in the release, and he ordered the PR firm to retract it.

"You're not supposed to use your job as state auditor in promoting something else. So, that is a mistake," he said. "There's no problem with (private employment). It's just a matter of how you do it."

But some lawmakers and government watchdogs questioned why Merritt, who earns more than $115,000 a year in his elected position, needs a second job.

"I think he's got some explaining to do. I just don't understand what's going on," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.

Lawmakers said voters see Council of State positions like the state auditor as full-time jobs.

"They don't expect these folks to be spending their time building other businesses on the side," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.

"It sure seems to me improper to try to use that for commercial purposes while you are state auditor," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford.

Members of the Ethics Commission couldn't be reached for comment on Merritt's press release or business venture.

"I do understand if any office is going to be looked at, it's the State Auditor's Office. We have to be very careful, and I will be," Merritt said.