News: CJ Exclusives

McCrory’s First Act: Scrap Perdue Executive Order

New governor gets rid of judicial commission that predecessor didn't use

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory issued his first executive order Monday, rescinding an order issued by his predecessor, Democrat Bev Perdue, which Perdue exempted herself from at the end of her term of office.

Saying he didn’t want to be handicapped by a procedure that didn’t work for Perdue, McCrory rescinded the executive order establishing a judicial nominating commission for selecting justices to the N.C. Supreme Court and judges to the N.C. Court of Appeals when vacancies occur.

McCrory noted that Perdue had to exempt herself from the order in making appointments to the bench during the waning days of her administration.

“I’m not going to be caught in that situation,” McCrory said.

McCrory also announced the appointment of three new staff members — Tony Almeida as his senior adviser for jobs and the economy, Fred Steen as his legislative liaison, and Chris Estes as his chief information officer.

The new governor also said that a meeting with his Cabinet yielded broad concerns about state government’s information technology system, the disrepair of state buildings and property, and an apparent razor-thin cash-flow surplus for the remainder of the fiscal year.

In 2011, Perdue issued an executive order setting up an 18-member judicial nominating committee to recommend justices and judges for appellate courts. The commission was to include members of various groups within the legal community, such as district attorneys, trial lawyers, defense lawyers, the state bar association, indigent services, black lawyers, and female attorneys. The governor would appoint additional members to the commission, some of whom would not be lawyers.

The commission would review applicants and forward three nominees to the governor.

Late last year, when Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson resigned from the N.C. Supreme Court, Perdue issued a separate executive order exempting herself — but not future governors, including McCrory — from her previous order. Perdue promoted Court of Appeals Judge Cheri Beasley to the Supreme Court and replaced Beasley with her general counsel, Mark Davis.

McCrory said he did not want to be limited by that earlier directive. “My biggest concern is having an executive order that doesn’t work,” McCrory said at a press conference announcing the decision and revealing new appointments.

State Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said she found McCrory’s move on the judicial review commission “troublesome.”

“Gov. Perdue at least explained how she was going to do it and had a process for how to do it,” Ross said. “Gov. McCrory is not an attorney and doesn’t have a lot of attorneys for advisers.”

McCrory said he has yet to establish a procedure for selecting justices and judges to fill vacancies, but does plan on vetting them.

“I guarantee you that I’m going to get a lot of input before I make very crucial decisions — from across the state — from people in the legal communities,” McCrory said.

McCrory also said that, after receiving an audit by State Auditor Beth Wood, he’s concerned about the shape of the state’s information technology system. He said the system is broken.
“We need to fix it as quick as possible,” McCrory said. “The IT systems are broken in almost every department in which I’ve talked to my Cabinet secretaries. My major concern right now is especially the IT work in health and human services.”

McCrory continued, “It could have major ramifications on food stamp and Medicaid operations.” If not fixed by June or July, it could affect people [receiving] such services, he said.

McCrory said that Estes, his new IT director, would be tasked with getting the state’s information systems in order.

Estes has been a principal at the Booz Allen Hamilton technology consulting firm and previously served as business development manager at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

McCrory also said he has learned that a lot of state government buildings are in disrepair.

“I’m concerned, frankly, that I’m going to get a call from the Raleigh mayor [asking] that [I] clean up state property … within the city of Raleigh,” McCrory said.

Ross said that she agreed with McCrory on the technology and state building issues.

“I agree that we need to improve the IT infrastructure,” Ross said. “And I agree that there has not been enough money put in the renovation and repair fund.”

Ross noted that many state government buildings are in her legislative district and lamented that the repair and renovations fund gets raided during tough economic times, such as a recession.

Steen, McCrory’s legislative liaison, had been a state representative since 2004. He didn’t run for re-election last year, choosing instead to run for the Republican nomination for the state’s 8th U.S. Congressional District. He lost a five-candidate primary to Richard Hudson, who defeated incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell in November.

Almeida has 32 years of management experience at Duke Energy, McCrory’s former employer.

Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.