Beth Wood’s hit-and-run accident on Dec. 8 and her subsequent actions have blemished an exemplary public service career and diminished her ability to perform the work the people of North Carolina elected her to do.
Wood has earned broad praise for her work as state auditor. She has worked aggressively to expose waste, corruption, and mismanagement. Perhaps most famously, her office uncovered fiscal mismanagement at the North Carolina Department of Transportation, leading to reforms in that body. Her work has led to taxpayer savings, more honest governance, and even anti-corruption legislation.
In short, Wood has been an excellent public servant and everything you could hope for in a state auditor.
Of course, some groups have publicly called for Wood to step down because of the Dec. 8 accident. As one might expect, the North Carolina Republican Party asked Wood, a Democrat, to resign soon after news of the accident broke. Another group that has called for Wood’s head is the Rocky Mount branch of the NAACP. That is more due to Wood’s department exposing corruption by one of their members than because of any “tactics and strategies out of the old 1898 racist playbook” by the auditor’s office.
The response from other public officials to the news of the hit-and-run crash has been largely restrained, however. Predictably, they include fellow Democrats such as Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein. The response of Republicans like Treasurer Dale Folwell and Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson has also been muted. That is a sign of the respect she has earned through her work. All of those politicians serve on the North Carolina Council of State with Wood.
Still, Wood should resign.
Several weeks after the accident, we are still facing questions about it. Why did the public have to wait over a month to find out about an accident in early December? Why have we seen new revelations come out in drips and drabs? Why has someone seen as a champion of transparency been so opaque about this incident? Those questions weaken her ability to serve at her job effectively.
Wood is not a regular citizen but a public official and should be held to a high standard. Even more, her job is to probe alleged irregularities and corruption by other public officials. When the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) issues a report, at least part of its impact is based on the belief that Wood and the rest of the officials in the office are above reproach.
With the accident and, more importantly, the apparent cover-up, Wood has weakened her credibility and that of her office. As long as she is state auditor, people will have more doubts about the veracity of its reports and are more likely to believe accusations of “abuse of power and lack of transparency” at the OSA. Her continued presence in office provides comfort to the incompetent and the corrupt within state and local governments.
Wood has offered a public apology for her actions, saying she had made a “serious mistake,” further stating that she regretted fleeing the accident and is cooperating with law enforcement. She closed the statement, saying, “I have learned from this mistake and am fully accepting personal responsibility for my actions.”
The truth is that Wood has not fully accepted responsibility for her actions, nor has she put the credibility of her office above her own interests. If she had done either, she would have resigned by now.