NC ethics commission removes, fines state appointees, including ECSU trustee

RALEIGH N.C.

The State Ethics Commission removed two appointees from their positions Friday and recommended removing three more because they didn’t fill out a new economic disclosure form required due five months ago under the state’s new ethics law.

The five and 15 others also received $250 fines. Most of those who were just fined filed the disclosure form late after receiving warning notices. The forms are designed to ensure that conflicts of interest are uncovered and to promote transparency within government, the commission’s leader said.

“We’re just following what the legislation says,” Robert Farmer, the commission’s chairman and a former judge, said during a break in the commission’s first meeting to consider penalties. “The general public needs to know what interests they have, that everything is open.”

The commission mailed the Statement of Economic Interest form to more than 4,300 people covered by the law, including the governor, judges, General Assembly members, cabinet-level officials and appointees to boards and commissions.

That’s more than double the number that Easley required to provide details of their personal finances under an executive order that formed the basis for the old rules.

Last year, following a series of scandals that highlighted weaknesses in the rules, the General Assembly passed expanded ethics laws and required more information to be disclosed.

The forms were supposed to be turned in by March 15. About 500 people who didn’t file in time received a reminder letter in April, the commission said.

Those who still didn’t file received letters warning them of a possible fine and removal. The bipartisan panel reviewed 39 cases Friday in which people never filed or filed very late.

Commission members voted to remove Michael A. Grace from the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the N.C. State Bar and Joseph P. Wilson as a trustee board member at Elizabeth City State University. They can appeal the dismissals through a state administrative process.

Grace didn’t immediately return a phone call left at his Winston-Salem law office. No one responded to a message to an e-mail address listed on the university Web site for Wilson, a former chairman of a New Jersey-based packaging company.

The commission also recommended to Easley that he remove three of his appointees: Buren Harrelson, a member of the Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services; Lon M. Culbertson with the state Building Code Council; and Sadie Stanfield of the state Human Relations Commission.

The governor, House speaker or Senate leader must make the final decision on whether to remove anyone they appointed.

On Easley’s three appointees, Easley spokeswoman Sherri Johnson said late Friday: “They will be removed.”

Others received no penalties, usually because they had attempted to work with commission staff or already had resigned.

A half-dozen who faced disciplinary action were members of community college boards. Board members were among the loudest opponents to filling out the longer forms, which sought more detailed information than in the past.

“As a group, they were among the most resistant to the entire process,” said Perry Newson, the commission’s director. But that doesn’t excuse them, he said, since 99.5 percent of the people “held their noses and filled them out.”

– Associated Press



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