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Morning Memo: Questions mount on MetLife incentives deal

FIVE DAYS LATER, McCRORY STILL SILENT ON ROLE IN METLIFE DEAL: Five days after the MetLife jobs announcement, Gov. Pat McCrory and the governor's office remains quiet on what role he played in luring the company even as questions mount. Consider this lead sentence from AP story Friday: "Gov. Pat McCrory avoided questions Friday about the state offering MetLife Inc. $94 million in tax breaks and other incentives to move thousands of jobs to North Carolina and using his former employer to help broker the deal." The Friday announcement was the second time in two days that McCrory dodged reporters' questions. The governor appears at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources today for a 12:30 p.m. announcement. Will he break his silence?

QUESTIONS MOUNT ABOUT THE INCENTIVES: At the same time, Charlotte area officials are raising questions about whether the incentives were even necessary to lure the company to the city, where half the 2,600 jobs will be located. On Saturday, less than 24 hours after a press conference announcing the deal, county commissioners questioned whether MetLife knew it was coming to Charlotte before commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval for the incentives.

Commissioners Chairwoman Pat Cotham said questions about the timing of the incentives vote started to enter her mind when news broke that the company had picked North Carolina and media events were arranged – only two days after the commissioners voted. Later, she learned that some MetLife executives had already been picking out schools and colleges for their children. “In my opinion, the deal was done when we first learned of it and voted for incentives,” Cotham, a Democrat, wrote in her first email to commissioners on Saturday.

***Good morning and thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for N.C. political news and analysis. Read much more below.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: The House and Senate convene at 7 p.m. to consider a handful of legislation (toughening sex offender rules in the Senate and a public records bill for private campus police in the House). McCrory, as mentioned, will make an announcement with DENR Secretary John Skvarla that an agreement has been reached to allow development of the eco-industrial park on a former Superfund site in Charlotte, AP reports. The site is being called ReVenture West. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata is holding a town hall Monday in Manteo. Expect him to face plenty of questions about ferry tolls and N.C. 12.

McCRORY ON INCENTIVES: What does McCrory think of the Charlotte commissioners chatter? Back in his campaign at least, he talked much about his dislike for economic development incentives and criticized the Democratic candidate for considering them necessary. When he was Charlotte mayor, McCrory said he would try to convince companies to relocate without incentives -- particularly if he could sell them on the city first. He also said if the incentives amounted to a rounding error on the corporation's books, but meant serious money for the city, he'd ask them not to take the money.

MORE ON METLIFE: WHAT ABOUT EXECUTIVE ORDER 17? From AP -- McCrory's predecessor, Democrat Beverly Perdue, also grappled with questions of inside connections and company-targeted tax breaks. Perdue's son Garrett joined a prominent Raleigh law and lobbying firm within weeks of Perdue's election as governor in 2008. Months later, Perdue signed an executive order aimed at the governor avoiding conflicts of interest when the state offers companies multi-million-dollar incentive packages.

The order, which remains in effect, said the governor shall "take appropriate steps, considering the nature of the project and the level of involvement of the consultant, to limit her or his involvement in the project to the extent necessary to protect the public interest." That was especially important "when the impartiality of the governor ... might reasonably be questioned due to a financial, personal, or familial relationship with a consultant or that consultant's employees or agents."

McCrory and his aides did not consult the State Ethics Commission about whether he faced any conflict of interest because his ex-employer helped negotiate MetLife's incentives offer, spokeswoman Kim Genardo said. The governor's involvement in those incentives "was limited, extremely limited," Genardo said.

'STATUS OF WOMEN' REPORT DISCUSSION TODAY: The final version of the latest "Status of Women in North Carolina" report will be discussed today at the NC Women's Roundtable in Greensboro. Former Gov. Bev Perdue discussed the draft last year before she left office. The report shows that women in 2010 were more educated and more likely to work in managerial positions than in 1990, but make only 83 cents for every dollar a man makes. In 2010, 17 percent of women and 13 percent of men were likely to be poor. About 20 percent of women 18-64 lack health insurance. The Institute for Women's Policy Research prepared the report.

SUNSHINE WEEK: UNC SLOW TO ABIDE BY RECORDS LAW: In the 18 months since UNC-Chapel Hill first acknowledged academic fraud on its campus, there have been several public reports and numerous high-profile open meetings about the scandal. And yet, much remains unknown, in part because the university and its consultants have rejected or not responded to numerous requests for information.

UNC-Chapel Hill is known as a “Public Ivy,” one of the top five public universities in the country. But the lack of information about the scandal, said state Sen. Thom Goolsby, is one reason that the university’s academic reputation continues to suffer. “If the answers had been forthcoming in this, the story would have been over,” said Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican. University officials say they have made a good-faith effort to respond to information requests.

MARTIN REPORT COST $490K: UNC-Chapel Hill paid roughly $490,000 for a probe into the long-running academic fraud within the African and Afro-American Studies department, newly released records show. They also show that since August, the university has been paying a public relations consultant $15,000 a month for expertise on managing the public response to the scandal. University officials say none of the expenses were paid with taxpayer funds. They were covered by public money that comes from the UNC-CH Foundation, which raises money from donors to benefit the university and students.

MUST READ FROM SUNDAY: ART POPE IS McCRORY'S MUSCLE: From columnist Rob Christensen -- Gov. Pat McCrory’s hiring of Art Pope as his budget director was a shrewd move – and not just because Pope works cheap as a $1-a-year man. Many people find it difficult to think dispassionately about Pope because he has become such a polarizing figure – knight of the right to his admirers or a somewhat sinister Daddy-Warbucks-Dick-Cheney-string-puller to his critics. But for McCrory, a rookie governor with little Raleigh experience, having Pope at his side during the early months of his administration has been an asset.

Pope also gives McCrory some street cred in the legislature. Although the Republican-led legislature has a vested interest in seeing the first GOP governor in North Carolina in 20 years succeed, the party also became used to running Raleigh under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.

McCrory has courted the legislature, inviting members to the Executive Mansion for breakfast and playing basketball with them at William Peace University. But there is no reason why the lawmakers should take the rookie seriously – except for Pope. Pope is a big-time Republican Party bank roller – and state Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis are both politically ambitious and cannot afford to ignore Pope. McCrory can shoot hoops with the boys on Jones Streets. But Pope can throw some elbows. Read Christensen's full column here.

POLL SHOWS SEQUESTER CONUNDRUM:The budget cuts in Washington have not hit home in America, at least not yet. A plurality of Americans think federal spending cuts will have no effect at all on them or their families, "according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll. At the same time, as many Americans think the cuts will have no effect or a positive effect on the overall economy as think the cuts will hurt the economy, the survey found. The numbers underscore how the politics of the spending fight in Washington have yet to be settled in the country, and why the two major parties could continue to struggle to reach accord in budget debates over coming months.

GUN RIGHTS ADVOCATES WANT RECORDS SEALED:Even before Sandy Hook revived the gun discussion, gun-rights advocates have been looking to expand the map of where they can carry concealed weapons, while pushing for tighter controls on who has access to information about their firearms. In recent records conflicts between gun-rights advocates and media organizations, gun owners have contended that providing such information to the public can make them vulnerable to burglaries. They also argue that such details could easily be posted on the Internet in this age of global information and make them targets of other crimes and possible public scorn. Advocates for keeping the records public argue that public access to the data ensures that permits are issued fairly and responsibly.

PITTENGER VENTURES OUT AS BIPARTISAN: After less than three months working in the nation’s capitol, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte is helping lead a bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers on an ambitious – some say long-shot – mission to reshape Washington. The freshmen describe themselves as a kind of antidote to Congress’s Class of 2010, known for its influx of combative tea partiers. This year’s class says it’s time that members put down their rhetorical firearms and had a few drinks together.

They want to get to know one another’s families and build rapport so it’s tougher to demagogue one another, as is the current practice on Capitol Hill. Maybe then, Pittenger said, they can actually work together and fix the nation’s fiscal problems. “We need to humanize this place,” Pittenger, a Republican, said in an interview. “There is so much acrimony that you hear back and forth. It’s disturbing. We have to work together as people. You don’t have to compromise your convictions to have relationships.” More on Pittenger's unlikely role here.

BONUS LINK: In case you missed it last week, Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers envisions the voices in McCrory's head.

--Staff writer Lynn Bonner contributed.


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