RALEIGH — The once-embattled former chief of Wake County schools was named Thursday to lead North Carolina's Department of Transportation, completing Gov.-elect Pat McCrory's Cabinet two days before he is sworn in.
In addition to naming Tony Tata to the transportation agency, McCrory also filled out his leadership team by naming former N.C. Rep. Bill Daughtridge of Rocky Mount as the next administration secretary, Sharon Decker of Rutherfordton as commerce secretary and Neal Alexander of Lincoln County as state personnel director.
Decker and Alexander are former executives at Duke Energy, where McCrory worked nearly 30 years. But McCrory, who named the rest of his Cabinet in December, labeled his team as diverse both politically and geographically. The eight-member Cabinet includes registered Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. There are also three women.
"My No. 1 requirement is finding talented individuals to join our team, who can run government in the most effective way possible regardless of political affiliation," the Republican former Charlotte mayor said at a news conference.
Daughtridge is a former three-term House member who has been an unpaid senior adviser to N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, for the past two years. He's also been the chief executive of a family-owned gas and oil company and is currently on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
McCrory told Daughtridge to review all state property and assets and recommend what should be retained or sold; review state contract and procurement procedures; and examine whether parts of the department could be better housed elsewhere.
"You might work yourself out of a job," the incoming governor told Daughtridge.Tata is a former Army general who arrived in Raleigh in January 2011 to lead the state's largest school system, which was then under a Republican-majority board. But the board returned to a Democratic majority. He was later fired following some public disputes, complaints over new student assignment plans and late-arriving school buses this fall.
But McCrory sounded confident that Tata, whose 28-year military career included time in Kosovo and Afghanistan, could take on the state DOT, which spends billions of state and federal dollars annually maintaining and building roads, bridges and other infrastructure. McCrory said Tata has managed education and defense budgets while overseeing military operations that involved complex transportation components.
"If he can do it in Afghanistan under fire, surely he can do it" in North Carolina, McCrory said.
Tata said he will organize a bipartisan commission to develop a 25-year state transportation plan — a platform of McCrory's campaign that was carried out for Charlotte while he was mayor. State DOT in August released a "North Carolina Statewide Transportation Plan" through 2040. It's not immediately clear how the McCrory administration's plan will be different.
The state DOT report estimated North Carolina will need another $60 billion — more than double the current projected funding — through 2040 to improve transportation infrastructure levels, and $32 billion just to keep the status quo.
Tata said he was grateful for the chance "to continue to serve the people of the great state of North Carolina."
Decker worked for 17 years at what was then Duke Power, where McCrory's office said she was the youngest and first female vice president in the company's history. She later became a textile company CEO and more recently created The Tapestry Group, which focuses on wellness issues for women from a religious perspective.
Decker will lead the administration's efforts to develop a brand and strategy for North Carolina's economy that McCrory has said lost some of its luster in recent years.
McCrory said she'll also be a key adviser on his effort to overhaul the state tax system and will help create a cadre of private-sector volunteers to help recruit job-creating companies. McCrory has said he wants North Carolina's unemployment rate to fall below South Carolina's in his first year in office.
Alexander worked for Duke Energy for more than 40 years and was a vice president for human resources. As personnel director, he is not an official member of the Cabinet.
McCrory and his Cabinet members will be sworn in Saturday during a private ceremony inside the old Capitol building.