Friday, June 06, 2008

A new job for Easley's right hand man?

The state’s top politicians are trying to help Gov. Mike Easley’s senior fiscal policy advisor and chief emissary to the legislature, Dan Gerlach, get a new job, but not right away. Easley and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight have prodded members of the board of the GoldenLEAF Foundation to delay picking the next president of the foundation, although the process was already delayed once and some members were already thinking of another delay. The foundation was set up in 1999 to receive up to $2.3 billion in a national tobacco settlement Easley helped negotiate when he was attorney general. The money was to be used to help economically distressed and tobacco-dependent communities.
But the foundation has also been at risk of losing its funding under at least two bills pending in the General Assembly. And that has discouraged some candidates for the job from applying. Gerlach himself expressed interest in the job but Easley has suggested holding off on a choice to see whether lawmakers take away the foundation’s funding, or a significant portion of it. That would also help Gerlach’s candidacy as the Easley administration enters its final months. The governor also tried to help Gerlach become president of the community college system, but a selection committee chose an academician instead.
The GoldenLEAF board was set to interview four candidates recently as part of the selection process to succeed foundation president Valeria Lee, who is leaving the foundation later this year. But instead of choosing a successor, it put off the selection for 90 days and asked Lee to stay on until September.
Bill Friday, who was instrumental in setting up the board, worries about any political influence exerted on Gerlach’s behalf, especially at a time when legislation is pending to take away any of the foundation’s funding: “Any politicization of the GoldenLEAF Foundation would be a huge mistake,” Friday said.
Gerlach says he doesn’t know what Basnight and Easley might have said to board members about his candidacy. “I don’t know.... I wasn’t part of that conversation. What I’m focusing on is getting the governor’s budget through the legislature.”
Here’s some background on this standoff from an Observer editorial published earlier this week:
Tug of war in Raleigh
Lawmakers should keep hands off GoldenLEAF fund
There’s a tug-of-war in the N.C. General Assembly over whether to dissolve a foundation created to help economically distressed counties, divert its future funding to pay for state construction needs or let its board pick a new president this week when it meets in Fayetteville.
Legislators ought to back off on plans to strip the GoldenLEAF Foundation – the Longterm Economic Advancement Foundation set up in 1999 to spend upwards of $2.3 billion over 25 years – to help “economically affected or tobacco dependent regions of North Carolina.”
But a number of influential legislators have been unhappy that the foundation hasn’t spent more of its income to help those communities. They have been threatening for more than a year to abolish the foundation and create another to focus more on tobacco-dependent communities, or to use the foundation’s income from a national tobacco settlement to pay for new state buildings and retire the debt on capital bond issues. One bill in the state Senate, sponsored by Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, would create a new Infrastructure Trust Fund to pay construction costs and interest.
These threats to the foundation likely have discouraged some candidates from applying to the foundation to succeed Valeria Lee, president of GoldenLEAF, who plans to retire later this year. The board is scheduled to consider four finalists for the job this week, but there is talk about postponing the selection to make sure there’s still a foundation to run after the General Assembly adjourns later this summer.
When the legislature set up the foundation nine years ago the plan was to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into communities suffering from the loss of tobacco markets and other traditional mainstays of the state’s old textile and furniture manufacturing economy. Until a year ago, there were still a handful of economically distressed counties that had not benefited from the fund. The foundation has begun to rectify that, and recently approved a $100 million grant for an aircraft components plant in Lenoir County that will pay wages about twice the local average.
That may be too late to stave off legislative unhappiness. But with the prospect of a new foundation president and a renewed focus on assistance to distressed communities, lawmakers should throttle back and allow the GoldenLEAF Foundation to fulfil its promise.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the Gov press as strongly with The Rural Center, Billy Ray Hall and his group who make political decisions when awarding grant moneys?

Dan Gerlach was the governor's greatest critic before Easley hired him a few years ago.

Obviously he has other plans for Franklin Freeman, who has screwed up royally over and over. Or maybe his daughter Lorie will give him a job at the Wake Clerk of Court's office? Or maybe Gov has already persuaded Bev Perdue to agree to keep all his minions if she manages to win the governor's race?

Sigh...sigh...sigh...

David McKnight said...

That's a truly obnoxious (anonymous!) comment about Franklin Freeman's service in the Governor's Office. Freeman has been invaluable in the steady forward march of the Easley administration through stressful political divisions and hard-fought primary campaigns for governor, U.S. senator and the presidency throughout the past year within the N.C. Democratic Party. Throughout all the tempests along the way, Freeman has helped solidify and improve the Governor's Office's vital political and constitutional relationships with the legislative and judicial branches of state government in Raleigh.

Some folks like to compare and contrast the leadership styles of the two most recent N.C. Democratic governors, Jim Hunt and Mike Easley, whose respective hometowns of Wilson and Rocky Mount are in close proximity in the heart of Eastern North Carolina. But as different as the Hunt and Easley styles of leadership may have been over these past 16 years, both governors from "Down East" have benefitted from stellar and visionary service and consistent, good-sense counseling from Franklin Freeman, the Surry County native who has brought a much needed measure of Blue Ridge hills wisdom, erudition, respect for the law and good ol' Northwestern N.C. savoir-faire to the awesome responsibilities of assisting two governors in leading the Old North State through the last decade of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that you're so in touch with Mr. Freeman, but didn't he just oversee the firing of Debbie Crane and the confusion over what Carmen Hooker did or did not do about mental health plans in NC?

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