North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey reinstated three fire officials, including Chief State Fire Marshal Brian Taylor, on Tuesday after firing them exactly two weeks ago.
Taylor, along with Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Mike Williams and Brent Heath, were fired by Causey on Oct. 31. The move came after the General Assembly changed the role of the state’s fire marshal.
Under the state budget that was passed in September and part of S.B. 363, and later, S.B. 409, as of Jan. 1, an independent Office of the State Fire Marshal will be created and housed within the Department of Insurance. The insurance commissioner would appoint the fire marshal, who would need to be confirmed by the legislature.
The state insurance commissioner has served as the state fire marshal since the 1940s.
The same day as the firings, Causey had named Deputy Fire Marshal Tony Bailey, the new chief state fire marshal, and Special Agent Craig Jarman, the new deputy state fire marshal.
Causey told Carolina Journal in a phone interview earlier this month that he learned that some of his staff that he appointed to leadership roles had been doing things to undermine his authority in his administration for their own personal gain.
“We do have evidence to show that they gave a lot of that specific information, and you can tell that by reading Senate Bill 409,” he said. “It’s got specific job numbers and job titles that you can’t fire this person, so the Senate was protecting certain people.”
Protections in S.B. 409 stated that as of Oct. 1, anyone in office would continue their employment. Six days after the bill passed the legislature, Causey fired the trio. Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law on Nov. 9, causing the firings to be against the law.
Cooper said in a press release that he only signed the bill because it provided much-needed cancer coverage benefits to the state’s firefighters, both paid and volunteer, and strengthens criminal penalties, giving prosecutors more tools against theft.
“But I strongly disagree with the unconstitutional legislative intrusion into the executive authority of state officials by directing employment of individual state employees,” he said in a press release.
Cooper references how the Firefighters’ Health Benefits pilot program insurance benefits will be administered. The program was started in 2021 to help firefighters diagnosed with cancer.
Currently, the insurance is administered by a third-party company. That will switch to being handled in-house by the Department of Insurance.
The budget allots $5 million to the program for the next two years, provided that 5% will be used to hire additional NCDOI staff to run the program.
Tim Bradley, executive director of the North Carolina State Firefighters’ Association (NCSFA), told CJ in September that while they appreciate that legislators funded the program, they are concerned with the change since the third-party company has experience dealing with cancer insurance while the NCDOI does not.
“If they (third-party company) got a legitimate claim, they would get claim checks out in a week or two,” he told CJ. “That’s just not going to happen in the state government as much as they try, things just don’t work that quickly. I think the service level may drop significantly.
Causey had previously said in an earlier press release that neither he nor any of the state’s top firefighter associations were consulted about the change to the fire marshal role, which he says will negatively impact the fire service and volunteer fighters across the state.
“I especially detest the way these items were added without input from the department, the State Firefighters Association, county fire marshals, or fire chiefs,” he said.
Causey told CJ in September that everyone he talked to thought S.B. 363 was just a “shot across the bow to send him a message for standing up to Blue Cross.”
Causey spoke out against H.B. 346, Reorganization & Economic Development Act in April. The bill allowed Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina and Delta Dental to create a holding company in which it could move policyholder money. Causey said the bill was a bad idea, mainly because the company would be deregulated.
The bill was signed into law by Cooper in June.
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