RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Embattled North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos approved a $37,227 lump sum payment to her chief of staff, a lobbyist who departed after working only one month on the job.
The taxpayer-funded payment to Thomas L. Adams became public Friday following the release of a July 29 letter signed by Wos and state budget director Art Pope. The payment to Adams was first reported by NC Policy Watch, a left-leaning policy organization.
Adams, 62, was hired March 1 and departed his $155,000-a-year job on April 2. Records show the additional payment made on top of his salary was to settle any potential claims he might have against the state agency.
A copy of the settlement released by DHHS late Friday provides no indication of why Adams left or why he might have standing to file a claim. In his position as an adviser to Wos, Adams' job would have been exempted from state personnel privacy protections and he would not be entitled to severance.
DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said he could not comment on the matter, citing personnel privacy restrictions.
Wos defended her hiring and salary practices during an interview aired on News 14 Carolina Friday night.
"It is critical when you're setting up a leadership team to surround yourself (with) people that are talented, trustworthy, hard-working and focused people," Wos said in the recorded interview.
A phone message left for Adams received no response.
Records show Adams registered as a paid lobbyist at the start of the 2013 legislative session for the N.C. Captive Insurance Association. He is currently listed on the group's Internet page as its president and CEO.
Wos, a Greensboro doctor and Republican who helped raise money for the 2012 campaign of Gov. Pat McCrory, has been under fire for months over politically charged hires and other issues. The latest disclosure comes as legislators have scheduled an all-day oversight hearing next month to talk about the agency and its leadership.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Wos hired an anti-abortion activist and GOP-political donor as a senior policy adviser making $95,000 a year. Also an early organizer for the conservative Eastern North Carolina Tea Party, Margaret "Mardy" Peal had not worked in the field of health care for more than a decade.
Earlier this year, Wos named Dianna Lightfoot as director of North Carolina's pre-kindergarten and child-care subsidy programs. Lightfoot had for years led an organization that opposed formal pre-K programs. She withdrew from the post following public outcry.
The agency also awarded a lucrative consulting contract to a man who works for a logistics firm led by Wos' husband. That consultant, Joe Hauck, has been paid more than $228,000 in eight months.
Dr. Rebecca King, who spent 35 years as head of the state's oral health program, was dismissed. King said she refused to provide the names of state-paid dental hygienists who took vacation time to lobby legislators against cuts to dental programs that serve low-income children.
Diaz, a 24-year-old former campaign spokesman for McCrory, is paid $85,000 a year as the agency's communications director. Wos' chief adviser for policy issues is another 24-year-old, former McCrory campaign staffer Matthew McKillip. He is paid $87,500.
While not referring to Diaz and McKillop by name, Wos said she had worked with them previously and said "their track record is impeccable."
Asked if their pay scale was appropriate, Wos said, "Actually, it should be more, but that option doesn't exist."
Last week, The Associated Press reported that the agency had hired a former Republican campaign staffer and lobbyist as its new director of brands and marketing. Aaron Mullins will be paid $68,000 a year.
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed from Raleigh. Skip Foreman contributed from Charlotte.
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