The TV satellite trucks are no longer stationary outside the N.C. Democratic Party headquarters on Hillsborough Street. But many questions surrounding the sexual harassment claims that crippled the party still remain unanswered. Here's a few storylines left in my notebook:
1. The money. The cost of the settlement with the former Democratic Party staffer who alleged sexual harassment and the source of the money is still unknown. But here's a more interesting point that went underreported: At the press conference, when I asked Chairman David Parker the source of the payout he said this: "I do not know. I leave that up the lawyer." So attorney John Wallace is authorized to spend party money and select its source as he sees fit?
Wallace later disclosed the existence of an off-the-books legal defense fund. But he wouldn't say where the settlement came from and he said expenditures were less than $10,000, which seems too little for a payout to quiet a disgruntled former staffer. So was it party donors' money? Wallace has declined to comment further.
2. Party controversy spills into governor's race. It went largely under-appreciated how the allegations put forth by Adriadn Ortega included Bob Etheridge's campaign manager, former party staffer Conen Morgan, and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton's political strategist Scott Falmlen. As both leading Democratic candidates for governor took positions on the matter, Morgan and Falmlen had to issue their own statements disentangling themselves.
Ortega wrote in a sworn EEOC complaint that he was told Morgan took the notebook where Ortega documented the harassment "to help my supervisor." Morgan didn't work at the party when the alleged harassment took place and he denied any involvement. "I did not make any copies of statements or records or have any part in the allegations ..." he said in a statement.
Ortega also wrote that Falmlen was one of the first people he told about the alleged harassment. Falmlen issued a statement saying the salacious details were not a part of his conversation with Ortega. Asked when and what he told his client, Falmlen told Dome he never talked to Dalton about the matter.
Rep. Bill Faison seems like the one who could capitalize but so far he has avoided trying to taint rivals with his own party's stank.
3. Why not resign? Much speculation surrounds Parker's decision not to resign. One possible explanation being floated in political circles: his First Vice-Chairwoman Gwen Wilkins.
If he stepped down, Wilkins would have taken the helm temporarily until a party election. Wilkins past includes a list of misdemeanor charges for worthless checks. In an interview with The News & Observer amid the fallout, Wilkins said she didn't think her criminal record was a factor in the matter.
"That happened back in '94 and '95 if I remember correctly, now all of them are paid and all of them were taken care of at that time," she said. "I prayed and asked God to forgive me and if God can forgive me the Democratic Party, Democrats and the people of North Carolina would."
Wilkins declined to elaborate about her financial troubles but said she was a single parent at the time. "I've spoken to Democrats in leadership positions who said it should not be an issue," she said.
4. No successor. What does it say that no Democrat has stepped forward to replace Parker and run for the chairmanship at the May 12 special election? Some top Democrats suggest Gov. Bev Perdue and party insiders will pick a favorite. But so far the half dozen names being mentioned have all declined. Traditionally party rules require the chairman and first vice-chairman to be opposite genders. But the party rules waive the requirement for those filling an unexpired term, as is the case here.
5. Special election. On graduation Saturday and a day before Mother's Day? It is apparently the earliest possible date to organize such a meeting but turnout may be an issue.
6. Who else has a legal defense fund? The party's admission to a legal defense fund -- a completely unregulated fundraising entity that can take unlimited contributions for clandestine purposes and make undisclosed expenditures -- is important. It raises the question: Who else has one?
Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood acknowledged his party has a legal defense fund but he declined to elaborate on its activity.
7. Personnel law. Parker stood before the TV cameras and described elements of his internal investigation that he believed cleared Jay Parmley from any wrongdoing. He said he talked to Parmley, who gave him permission to discuss the matter. But later in the Q&A, Parker invoked "personnel law" as a reason for not answering certain questions. He also wouldn't release his investigation -- making his claims as unsubstantiated as those made by Ortega. So the questions: What part of the personnel law prevents release? And how can he discuss the allegations for 20-minutes but not show full transparency by releasing documents or answering the other questions?
8. Democratic Party bylaws. The state Democratic Party's Plan of Organization gives the chairman a list of 20 duties (Sec. 4.05). No where in that list does it seem to suggest that the chairman can enter into legal settlements or expend money. The powers designated to the executive director include provisions that possibly cover this topic -- but lets assume the conflict of interest, given that executive director was the one accused, is so great that it doesn't apply here.
So the only entity it seems that could authorize such an agreement is the state party executive council (Sec. 4.06). The plan states that the council can approve large expenditures, perform financial transactions and adopt resolutions authorizing others to execute legal documents. The problem: Parker never told the executive council before signing the settlement agreement. So the question: Is the agreement even valid if the person who authorized it didn't have the authority to do so?
And if Parker can't spend the money, will Ortega have to give it back? Or is it possible that Ortega wasn't paid by a legal defense fund or the party at all, but possibly by individual donors so as to avoid the party's rules about who can spend money and keep it off the books?