Mary Easley not resigning from N.C. State
Posted May 21, 2009 9:30 a.m. EDT
Updated May 21, 2009 7:17 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Despite increasing calls for her to step down, former North Carolina first lady Mary Easley intends to continue her job at North Carolina State University, her attorney said Thursday.
The controversy over her hiring and promotion already has led to the resignations of two top university officials.
Meanwhile, N.C. State officials didn't appear Thursday before a federal grand jury investigating Easley's employment and former Gov. Mike Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office.
"Mary Easley plans to continue making contributions to North Carolina State University and the state of North Carolina," attorney Marvin Schiller said during a news conference.
Easley stood silently at Schiller's side, allowing him to answer all questions.
Schiller said Mary Easley intends to complete the five-year contract with the university that she signed last year.
"The reason she is continuing is that North Carolina State University ... entered into a valid contract with Mary Easley," he said. "We believe that the university should uphold its promise to Mary Easley."
After her appearance, several political and education officials said Easley should leave N.C. State:
- University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles: "It is absolutely true that I have liked and respected Mary Easley for years. I have said so numerous times – publicly, privately, in writing and verbally. I also do not question that when she was hired by N.C. State in 2005, prior to my arrival at UNC, that she was considered to be an asset to the university. Furthermore, when the UNC Board of Governors and I reviewed the salary associated with her expanded duties in 2008, it was unanimously approved after significant adjustments were made. I have said this repeatedly and released publicly the information that supports the salary she was offered. But as Mrs. Easley’s attorney said today, we are now at a time that is different from when Mary Easley was hired. And I do feel that it would be in the best interest of N.C. State for her to move on.”
- Bob Jordan, newly named chairman of the N.C. State Board of Trustees: "One of the reasons N.C. State is a great university is that it is populated by people who put the institution first. N.C. State has treated Mrs. Easley with objectivity, dignity and fairness. We understand she feels she has performed her job well. But it's gone well beyond that issue. The ongoing distraction has obscured the university's accomplishments and mission and detracted from our day-to-day work. We respectfully ask that she reconsider her decision for the good of the university."
- Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger: "The ongoing embarrassment to the state, the university system and N.C. State regarding the circumstances of Mary Easley’s hiring and continued employment needs to come to an end. I renew my call for her to resign immediately. It is time for Gov. Perdue to stop watching and act to bring this regrettable act of political favoritism to a close. If Gov. Perdue cannot prevail upon her fellow Democrats to do the honorable thing, it will become necessary to eliminate state funding for Mary Easley’s position."
Calls for Mary Easley's resignation grow
Berger's statement displayed how politicized the issue has become in recent days. Observers from both the Democratic and Republican parties on Thursday joined the call for Mary Easley to resign.
"If (she's) really looking to serve the public and people who actually hired (her) at the university have already stepped down, I think she is missing the mark there to serve the people of North Carolina," said Linda Daves, chairwoman of the state Republican Party.
"You've got a responsibility when you're in public office and a public figure. You're in public life. You've got to think about how your actions and how people see your actions affect those institutions," said Gary Pearce, a Democratic consultant.
Gov. Beverly Perdue deflected calls for an independent investigation, saying only that she hopes the case can be resolved soon.
"I am as eager as you all to bring this whole discussion to a conclusion," Perdue said. "It is a hard day for North Carolina. I want to see it end quickly."
N.C. State officials said Mary Easley's continued presence undermines the university's integrity and is becoming a distraction at a time when the university should focus on dealing with the tight state budget.
"I have a hard time envisioning moving forward as business as usual," said James Martin, chairman of N.C. State's Faculty Senate. "Running the seminar series based on the current political climate and everything surrounding this will be challenging."
Mary Easley began working as a part-time instructor at N.C. State in 2002. Since 2005, she has served as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer, developing the Millennium Seminars speakers program and teaching a graduate course in public administration and courses in the Administrative Officers Management Program, which provides leadership training to law enforcement officers.
Last year, she received an 88 percent pay increase, to $170,000 a year. N.C. State officials defended the move, saying she had taken on additional duties, such as directing pre-law services at the university and serving as a liaison to area law firms and law schools at other universities as she developed a dual degree program.
Schiller quoted from Mary Easley's annual reviews, in which university administrators spoke in glowing terms about her job performance.
"The indisputable evidence is that Mary is doing an outstanding job for North Carolina State University and the state of North Carolina," he said.
Dudley Flood, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, which approved Mary Easley's five-year contract a year ago, said he has no regrets about the move.
"At this minute, a contract is in place, and a contract is a contract," Flood said, adding that he doesn't expect the matter to come back before the board. "I suspect there will be discussion and talks about how that ought to play out."
Grand jury investigates Easleys
Provost Larry Nielsen, who hired Mary Easley, decided last week to step down, citing the stress over questions about the hiring and his subsequent promotion to provost. His resignation takes effect on Friday, when he will take a faculty position in N.C. State's College of Natural Resources.
A day later, McQueen Campbell stepped down as chairman of N.C. State's Board of Trustees. Mike Easley twice appointed Campbell to the board, and The News & Observer newspaper has reported that the former governor often flew in Campbell's private plane.
Neilsen and Campbell have maintained they did nothing wrong in Mary Easley's hiring, although Campbell did tell Bowles last week that, when N.C. State officials were looking for someone to oversee the speakers series, he mentioned to Oblinger that Mary Easley was looking for a new job.
Federal investigators ordered N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger, Nielsen and the university's records custodian to appear before a grand jury Thursday morning to testify about her hiring and promotion. University spokesman Keith Nichols said the officials postponed their appearance because they needed more time to prepare the records requested in the subpoenas.
The federal grand jury also is investigating Mike Easley's dealings in office.
Investigators also subpoenaed the former governor's travel records to determine whether any laws were broken. The News & Observer has reported that some campaign donors, including Campbell, flew the governor in their private planes but never disclosed the flights in campaign finance reports.
Highway Patrol Capt. Alan Melvin, who headed the former governor's security detail, testified before the grand jury Thursday.
"I was subpoenaed by the grand jury, and I told the truth," Melvin said upon leaving the federal courthouse in Raleigh.
The Highway Patrol placed Melvin on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the disappearance of all gubernatorial travel records for 2005.
The Easley family's use of vehicles provided by car dealerships and a land deal on the coast also are under investigation.
Mike Easley has said he is confident in the outcome of the investigation.
Schiller said that, as far as he knows, Mary Easley hasn't been subpoenaed in the investigation and isn't a target.