WRAL Investigates

Documents reveal political influence in DMV

Posted August 13, 2009 5:56 p.m. EDT
Updated August 14, 2009 7:18 a.m. EDT

— State Division of Motor Vehicles documents subpoenaed as part of a federal grand jury investigation into former Gov. Mike Easley show high ranking state officials were involved in the hiring process.

The names of the DMV employees have been redacted from the public documents, but the high ranking influence is clearly spelled out. Applicants were recommended by Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, then-Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, former Sen. John Kerr and Ruffin Poole, Easley's former legal counsel, among others.

"There's a fair amount of pressure to hire people," said Wayne Hurder, the former DMV deputy commissioner who compiled the list. "People had to have their finger in the DMV pie."

Hurder put the list together at a time he was under scrutiny for questionable hirings. He said he was fired for not attending a political fundraiser, and he recently won an out-of-court settlement after challenging his firing.

"Everything I did was within the requirements of the law," he said.

Hurder's list of applicants details the DMV hiring connections: "A friend from Enfield," "husband DOC Supt.," "Tracy's Ex," "promised mother would hire," and "married to UNC VP" were some of his notations.

Rand, D-Cumberland, said he frequently refers people for jobs, but he argued that he doesn't cross the line and demand that someone be given a job.

"If someone you know and respect calls you and tells you Fred is a good guy, you then view Fred a little differently," he said. "Now, (do) I call up somebody and say, 'You better hire this person, or I'm going to fire you?' No, absolutely not."

Hurder said that, despite politics, most people hired by the DMV are qualified. Many referrals don't get jobs, he said, but political ties clearly pushed through some applicants.

"In several cases, there was undue influence, absolutely," he said.

In one case he noted, Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, called to change a DMV decision. Hurder also said Poole often influenced hirings.

"He called, and everyone knew he spoke with the authority of the Governor's Office. What happened at N.C. State rang true from my experience," Hurder said.

Three top North Carolina State University officials have resigned in recent months over questions about the university's hiring in 2005 of Easley's wife, Mary Easley, and her promotion last year to a $170,000-a-year job.

Poole and Jenkins couldn't be reached for comment.

Rand and Hurder agreed that a state hiring law passed in 1997 helped reduce much of the political patronage in state government, but not all of it.

DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson, who wasn't in charge of the agency when Hurder was there, issued a statement Thursday defending the agency's hiring practices.

"The Division of Motor Vehicles adheres to state personnel policies for hiring and follows the state-approved merit-based hiring system," Robertson said. "Any citizen may submit recommendations or referrals concerning a job applicant. DMV requires these to be put in writing so they can be ... considered with the application as a whole.

He said Hurder compiled his list for his own use and said the DMV "has no knowledge as to the truth or accuracy of any of the information provided."

The federal grand jury ordered the DMV to turn over all correspondence between agency officials and the Easleys, some members of Mike Easley's staff and several of his political contributors.

The grand jury is investigating Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office, including his travel, Mary Easley's job at N.C. State and land deals along the coast.