The board successfully lobbied lawmakers to stick a sentence into an unrelated bill. The change would mean that the protections that Doug Van Essen was using to challenge his termination would no longer apply. In other words, if he wins his job back, he could get fired again without recourse.
What isn't as clear, is who led the charge for the board.
At a hearing over Van Essen's case, Board chairman Ray Mitchell Jr. said it was board member Rita Harris, a lobbyist for the Commerce Department and a licensed cosmetologist.
"Who on behalf of the board decided to approve presenting this amendment?" Van Essen's attorney, Faith Herndon, asked Mitchell at the hearing.
"I would say Rita Harris," Mitchell said.
Harris disagreed when reached by Dome.
"I don't know that I was the person who did that," said Harris. "I think Ray [Mitchell] was really in charge of doing that and I think he was at the meetings where that happened if I recall."
Harris hung up the phone in the middle of an interview, saying Mitchell needed to answer questions about the Van Essen case.
More after the jump.
"Talk to the chairman" was a common refrain among board members.
Steve Hargis, a Johnston County contractor who was appointed to the board to represent the public, also said Mitchell should be the only one to answer questions about Van Essen's case. Hargis declined to say whether he was in favor of firing Van Essen.
"How I voted is really between me and the board," Hargis said. "When you look at these kinds of jobs, you have to deal with what the laws are. If the law changes while you're in the job, you deal with that law. That's part of serving in these senior level positions in state government."