McCrory administration official alleges bullying

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration and a key House leader are fighting over a three-member commission that serves as the final benefits arbiter in North Carolina’s unemployment insurance office.

They took that fight public Wednesday in a House committee.

Dale Folwell, an assistant commerce secretary in charge of the Division of Employment Security, accused some legislators of trying to intimidate his agency over the future of the Board of Review.

“We have been bullied over an issue called the Board of Review, and I want to say this because this may be my last opportunity to say it,” Folwell said before the House Finance Committee voted on a bill that makes relatively minor changes to the state’s unemployment benefits system.

Folwell’s comments were directed squarely at Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, the committee’s senior co-chairwoman and primary bill sponsor. She said after the meeting she’s never heard an agency official address lawmakers so disrespectfully.

“I thought it was totally out of place,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t have ever said that of a committee member in a committee like this.”

But Folwell and McCrory Communications Director Josh Ellis did not back down, asserting that Howard and others have approached the administration about appointing Howard to the review board.

“This is the good old boy and good old girl network that the governor refused to accept, regardless of party,” Ellis said recently by email.

Howard said she filed a state government application necessary for appointments to boards and commission but never specifically applied for a job to the review board. Howard said some people in the business community had once asked her to consider seeking a position on the board.

Now, Howard said in an interview, “I would not even think about going over there.” She added that McCrory “made his decision of who he wants on the board.”

The legislature created the board, effective November 2011, but delays and a change in administrations meant McCrory, a Republican, didn’t make appointments until last December.

McCrory’s office made the appointments despite telling legislators in a letter the governor believed the panel unnecessary and a waste of money. The chairwoman of the board makes $122,255, with the other members making $120,737.

The two-year delay angered some legislative leaders. The delay raises questions about the legality of final appeal reviews that were performed instead by Folwell and his predecessor for those two years.

Proposed legislation rolled out before this year’s session is designed to ensure their final reviews for the past two years were lawful. But it also included a plan, which McCrory opposes, to throw out McCrory’s commissioners and let legislators pick two of the three.

Neither item was in Wednesday’s House bill, which would require benefit recipients to make more weekly contacts looking for work and to show photo ID to keep receiving jobless benefits.

Howard predicted the language would be inserted once it passes the full House and moves over to the Senate. She said it wouldn’t give the House speaker and Senate leader the ability to choose appointments. Folwell said he still wants the language inserted to protect the rulings on the final appeals before the board was filled.

“We hope that we are no longer bullied,” said Folwell, a former House member who used to be a finance committee co-chairman with Howard. She’s been in the legislature for 25 years.