Patronage Games: Hire of NC House Speaker’s Fiance Raising Questions

RALEIGH – If you’v ever spent any time in, or around state government, especially during political transitions, you have a sense of the political patronage games that go on. Much of it makes sense, when you stop to think about it, because new executive administrations and new legislative majorities want people from their team to occupy policy making positions through out government.

That is why there are plenty of state government positions that are exempt from state hiring regulations. Non-exempt positions face a litany of hiring process mandates, such as interviewing a minimum number of qualified candidates for a particular position, and not letting political affiliation influence the final decision. However, only the naive would believe that patronage does not exist in non-exempt positions as well.

That brings us to the topic at hand: House Speaker Tim Moore’s finance was hired for relatively high paying gig at the N.C. Department of Insurance and the details (or lack thereof) are raising questions about whether or not the hire was above board.

The Checks and Balances Project has been issuing records requests to get more information. The answers are not exactly forthcoming.

“Attorney Jennifer Gray was given the newly-created position of associate general counsel of the North Carolina Dept. of Insurance (DOI) on March 6, 2017. A month later, at the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase, she was photographed standing next to powerful House Speaker Tim Moore. According to two sources, Speaker Moore and Ms. Gray are engaged to be married.

Though North Carolina has clear hiring procedures, Jennifer Gray landed the $89,000 a-year post even though no other applicants were interviewed – or even considered – for the job, according to the DOI’s Marla Sink.

This raises two possibilities, both of which present problems for the DOI and, possibly, Speaker Tim Moore himself. The DOI itself has given conflicting accounts to Checks and Balances Project.

According to a document provided by the DOI, the job the Speaker’s girlfriend was given should have been governed by North Carolina’s Policy for Selecting Employees. That would mean state hiring requirements were ignored when the high-paying job was given to a woman romantically linked to the powerful Speaker of the House.

This document, provided by the DOI, is from the North Carolina State Government’s internal Human Resource Information System known as “Beacon.” It clearly indicates that Jennifer Gray started hire date was March 6, 2017, and her “current position” number is 65026433.”

As we mentioned before, if that position number corresponds to a job exempt from state hiring practices, there is nothing to see here. Patronage happens, and believe it or not there are some good reasons for it.

But that position number, according to CBP, does NOT correspond to an exempt position. If true, that would make the the hire a violation of state law for the purposes of giving (creating) a nice job to the House Speaker’s girlfriend.

“A second possibility — stated in documents and emails provided to C&BP by the DOI — is that Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey hired Ms. Gray into a vacant, existing “policy-making exempt position” — job #60013309. Policy-making exempt is a category of state jobs that can be filled without hiring state hiring procedures – essentially a political patronage job.

C&BP repeatedly asked for an explanation of why the internal Beacon document clearly states Ms. Gray’s “current position” is job #65026433 – not job #60013309, the policy-making exempt position.

But no one would fully answer that question. Instead, they keep repeating the same answer, despite the fact that the documents conflict [… ]”

When CBP requested more documents (like emails) related to Ms. Gray’s hire, they were told by DOI that none exist. That seems unlikely.

Everything about Ms. Gray’s hire could be ‘A-OKay,’ but it’d be best to be a little more transparent about it in that case. If not, people paying attention are left to assume that the political leadership on Jones Street is just as icky as it ever was, tax cuts and government reforms notwithstanding. It is certainly not a good look to have the powerful House Speaker’s girlfriend landing a job simply due to her closeness to the politically influential, especially when Republicans have billed themselves as the antithesis of the swampy Democratic majorities that ran things on Jones Street for so long.

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