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Asleep at wheel day before, Democrats try to fight personnel bill

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday tried to fight legislation backed by Gov. Pat McCrory to curb civil service protections for state employees -- a day after they missed the bill on the calendar and inadvertently voted to give it preliminary approval.

House Bill 834 received a 110-5 vote Tuesday. But Democrats mounted an effort to amend the measure Wednesday, trying to limit the number of political appointments the governor's office can make for state positions and add protections for workers who are cut under a reorganization plan.

All three failed. But the final vote to approve the bill was much closer at 74-40. A Democratic lawmaker said caucus members didn't realize what the bill did when they voted for it a day earlier.

McCrory finalizes his cabinet, picked ousted Wake leader as DOT head

Gov.-elect Pat McCrory named former Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata as his secretary of transportation Thursday. He was one of four picks McCrory announced to complete his cabinet two days before he takes the oath. He also named Sharon Decker as his commerce secretary, former Republican state Rep. Bill Daughtridge to lead the Department of Administration and Neal Alexander as his personnel director. Read more here.

State personnel director resigns to campaign

Linda Coleman is leaving her her job as director of the Office of State Personnel at the end of the month to spend more time on her campaign for lieutenant governor. 

Coleman said she will be in and out of the office for the next few weeks, tying up loose ends. She'll use some of her accumulated leave when she's out working on the campaign. 

She faces Sen. Eric Mansfield of Fayetteville in the Democratic primary. 

Coleman said she talked to Gov. Bev Perdue a few weeks ago, and was told she could stay in the job as long as she kept her work and the campaign separate. 

Perdue appointed Coleman, a former state House member from Knightdale, to the job in 2009.

Coleman said she decided there wasn't enough time to do her job well and campaign the way she wants to. 

"I really am committed to the campaign for lieutenant governor," she said, and decided "i need to give it all that I had."

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Coleman today picked up the endorsement of the State Employees Association of N.C.
The association’s political action committee held a candidate forum last week. All seven candidates for the job were invited but only Coleman and state Rep. Dale Folwell showed up.
SEANC, Service Employees International Union Local 2008, has 55,000 members.


UPDATE2: A statement from Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson. 

“Gov. Perdue is grateful to Linda Coleman for her frank and thoughtful advice and for her years of devoted service to the state and state employees. The Governor will begin the process of identifying a new director.”

Employees are actually slipping, a positive sign

State employees are slipping.

As we reported Thursday, a 2008 review of state employee performance ratings showed that they were inflated, with 81 percent scoring above average. Well, in 2009, ratings were down slightly, with only 79 percent scoring above average.

The ratings are not tied to raises — which tend to be awarded by the legislature on an across-the-board basis. Managers have few perks to reward high performing employees, so the often-subjective performance reviews tend to be overwhelmingly positive, officials have concluded.

So given the fact that the state has an inflation problem, declining employee performance is actually a good thing.

"The last two years' ratings have been less positively skewed than has been the case for the prior 19 years," the Office of State Personnel reported in 2009.

A well-timed hiring thaw

Between June 30 and July 24, when one hiring freeze ended and another began, the Office of State Personnel hired a statewide wellness coordinator.

The coordinator, who starts work in August, will be responsible for organizing wellness programs for state employees and educating them on good health practices. The person's salary will be between $53,248 and $72,000. The actual salary is not a matter of public record until the coordinator starts work.

Representatives from the personnel office said it is an important job, and said an economic recession is a time when people should worry about health.

"This is a very critical position at an important time for the state, with budget cuts and potential reductions in the workforce," said Margaret Jordan, the office's public information officer. "People are under a lot of high stress."

Jordan said the new position also will help state employees deal with changes in the state health plan designed to encourage people to smoke less and lose weight.

Leaving early from the legislature

A number of legislators have left this session.

Below, a running list of state lawmakers who have resigned, died, switched chambers or plan to leave before session's end:

Rep. Linda Coleman, Wake County Democrat: Resigned Jan. 11 after being appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue to head the Office of State Personnel.

Sen. Vern Malone, Wake County Democrat: Died on April 18.

Rep. Dan Blue, Wake County Democrat: Resigned May 19 after being appointed to Malone's seat in the state Senate.

Rep. Cary Allred, Alamance County Republican: Resigned June 1 after allegations of impropriety with a teen-aged page and a speeding ticket.

Rep. Bonner Stiller, Brunswick County Republican: Announced he will resign June 15 to spend more time with his family and run his law firm.

Bowles: Nothing premature on RIFs

Erskine BowlesErskine Bowles said that it's not premature to look into reductions.

The president of the University of North Carolina system responded to a recent letter from State Employees Association of N.C. head Dana Cope, which argued that it was illegal for the UNC system to consider steps to cut back its work force.

"While you suggest that 'there is no shortage of funds yet,' recall that the University has had to absorb more than $175 million in state budget cuts during the current fiscal year alone — and that personnel costs account for 75% of our campuses' state funding," Bowles wrote.

Bowles said that the UNC system has contacted Office of State Personnel head Linda Coleman, who agreed that "in these extraordinary times" it is "appropriate and prudent" for the university to take the steps.

Though the university is not yet short of money, Bowles said it is "wholly unrealistic" to think it won't be hit in the budget year starting June 1.

"Waiting would only increase the number of staff who would have to be laid off in order to absorb inevitable cuts," he writes.


SEANC: Don't layoff yet

SEANC is taking on Erskine Bowles over layoffs.

Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of N.C., sent a letter today to the president of the University of North Carolina system.

In it, he says he's learned of an e-mail at UNC-Chapel Hill that calls for reducing staff size now in order to save money in the budget starting July 1.

He cites a rule by the State Personnel Commission which says reductions can only happen once there is a shortage of funds.

"There is no shortage of funds yet, as the next budget has yet to be passed and signed into law," Cope writes. "The General Assembly may, in fact, find a way to fund UNC for the next fiscal year in such a way that no redutions in force are required."

Copies of the March 26 letter were sent to Gov. Beverly Perdue and Office of State Personnel head Linda Coleman.

Bowles RIF letter.pdf

Perdue appoints legislator

Gov. Beverly Perdue has appointed Darren Jackson to the state House 39th District, which includes part of Wake County.

Jackson was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Linda Coleman, who is now head of the Office of State Personnel.

He was recommended by the 39th District Democratic Executive Committee.

Jackson is from Eastern Wake County and practices law at Gay & Jackson LLP in Zebulon. He is vice president for the East Wake Education Foundation and has served previously as a Community in Schools mentor at East Wake Middle Schools.

He holds a law degree from Duke University and an undergraduate degree in political science from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Gore cleared of favoritism charges

The Office of State Personnel found that there is no basis to allegations that former Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bill Gore used favoritism in hiring.

The claims were made by Gore's former second-in-command, Wayne Hurder. Hurder was fired in November after an internal DMV investigation found that he had allowed a Greene County patronage boss, Eddie Carroll Thomas, to have longstanding and widespread influence over personnel matters within the Driver and Vehicle Services section.

Hurder claimed in a suit filed shortly after his termination that Gore had violated personnel procedures in seeking to help two people get DMV positions, reports Dan Kane. One is the son of a former neighbor of Gore's who won a summer internship; the other was a temporary DMV employee who sought a fulltime job.

An investigation by the state personnel office found that Hurder came up with the idea of the summer internship and set it in motion, and did not raise objections about it at the time. Another person who had no connection to Gore was selected for a second internship.

As for the temporary employee, the investigation found that Gore expressed an interest in hiring him fulltime because he had fixed some equipment that others responsible for the repair had failed to fix. But the investigation found that Gore did not get involved in the hiring process as the temporary employee applied for two jobs, one of which he won.

Read more after the jump.

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