Opinion: Carolina Beat

CJ Editorial: Mary Easley Gets A Holiday Gift

The following editorial appeared in the January 2013 print edition of Carolina Journal:

Former first lady Mary Easley hit a jackpot that may be worth a million dollars, and she didn’t buy a ticket.

Easley recently agreed not to sue N.C. State University for firing her in 2009, and in return she’ll get an extra $40,000 a year in pension benefits. That bump could total a cool million over time, based on her life expectancy. By not filing a lawsuit, Easley will soak the public in two ways: First, from the extra money we’ll pay for her pension; and second, by leaving the public unaware of the details of the scandal because they won’t be aired in court proceedings.

In 2005, N.C. State hired Easley to manage a program to bring speakers to campus. The position drew headlines in July 2008, when Carolina Journal reported that she had landed an 88 percent raise, pushing her annual salary to $170,000. College officials swore there was nothing odd about offering that much money for a position with few formal duties, and that then-Gov. Mike Easley had no role in securing the position for his spouse.

Subsequent press investigations found that Mike Easley in fact pulled a lot of strings to get his wife the post. As a result, in 2009 Mary Easley was forced to retire, and N.C. State’s chancellor, provost, and board of trustees chairman left the university in disgrace.

The story didn’t end there, however. Easley signed a five-year contract with N.C. State when she got her raise; the university forced her to leave less than two years into the deal. Easley threatened to sue the university for wrongful termination, and current N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson decided it would be cheaper for the university to “unretire” her, letting her collect higher pension benefits rather than fighting a court battle the university might lose.

The deal increases Mary Easley’s monthly pension benefit from $3,100 to more than $6,700, the amount she would have received had she stayed through the end of the contract. N.C. State used private funds to reimburse the state’s pension and health plans the roughly $90,000 the university would have paid on her behalf from the time of her dismissal until the contract ended. Easley also repaid the pension and health plans an undisclosed amount related to the benefits she has collected since her firing.

As usual, the Easleys will profit handsomely from their misdeeds, remaining silent as they cash in.

Mike Easley, facing charges of violating campaign laws for not reporting flights from donors, took a felony plea rather than have those arrangements aired at a trial. Mary Easley grabbed an additional $3,600 a month in pension benefits without explaining the closed-door deals that led to her six-figure position at N.C. State.

Oh, and Mike Easley, who surrendered his law license as part of his plea deal, is on track to have it reinstated.

The Easleys’ continuing shenanigans may have North Carolinians channeling that country song, “How can we miss you if you won’t go away?”