RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he supports the head of North Carolina's massive health agency in her decisions to hire politically connected aides and that news reports about their backgrounds may prevent good people from taking state jobs.
McCrory said he worried news reports about the backgrounds of state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos' hires might dissuade outsiders who want to join state government to shake it up, then leave after a couple of years.
WRAL-TV of Raleigh and The News & Observer reported Tuesday that Wos hired an anti-abortion activist who had spent more than a decade away from health affairs as a senior adviser earning $95,000 annually. Margaret "Mardy" Peal's hiring comes as the agency is rewriting state rules governing access to abortion. She will work on an initiative by McCrory and Wos that would allow private insurance companies to run the government's health care program for the poor. In past statements, Peal has been highly critical of government spending on Medicaid.
"I'm very concerned in hiring future people who want to come into state government for a temporary amount of time, the intrusion into their personal life by people, political operatives and others," McCrory said at a news conference. "I am concerned that the line is being moved continually about the intrusion into people's private life."
Peal, 42, holds a master's degree and taught for three years in the 1990s at East Carolina University's medical school before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She rejoined the workforce last year, helping develop the curriculum at a small Christian school in Winterville attended by her children. She recently served on the board of the anti-abortion Carolina Pregnancy Center, a group that emphasizes Christian scripture and encourages abstinence.
Wos has been under scrutiny for months for her leadership of DHHS, which has struggled for years with Medicaid cost overruns but more recently has had problems with massive new computer systems handling Medicaid payments and public food assistance.
Wos hired a pair of 24-year-old, former McCrory campaign staffers at salaries of $85,000 and $87,000 a year. Her agency is paying an executive of her husband's logistics company up to $310,000 to advise Wos under a contract due to expire Nov. 30. Wos took heat for hiring as her director of North Carolina's pre-kindergarten and child-care subsidy programs someone who for years led an organization who opposed formal pre-K programs. Her choice withdrew from the post.
Leaders of the Democratic Party minorities in the state House and Senate on Wednesday said they have asked state Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, to investigate whether DHHS is being mismanaged.
"One thing I told Beth Wood from the very day we met is we welcome audits," McCrory said.
McCrory's election in November put Republicans in charge as governor and at the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. That change has come with the need to find "people from the outside who can give a new, fresh perspective to what's been happening" in Raleigh "which has been controlled by one culture for such a long time. We're bringing in people from the outside."
McCrory noted that out of the hundreds of hiring decisions his appointed agency secretaries have made, a relative handful have raised questions.
"I'm not going to get distracted into the detailed operations which my secretaries are responsible for making those hires. I've got eight secretaries and I've given them instructions to make the best hires possible," McCrory said. "Within the rules, procedures and guidelines of state government, they've accomplished that."