During hearing, Commission takes stock of projects with limited available information
Next step: subcommittees with subpoena power, authority to enlist investigators
Raleigh, N.C. – The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations today held a hearing on the flailing Hurricane Matthew aid distribution and questionable Atlantic Coast Pipeline permitting transactions. The oversight activity follows months of inquiries on the topics by legislators and the press, most of which Governor Cooper ignored.
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said, “The gross incompetence in Hurricane Matthew relief efforts and suspicious timing for pipeline permits is clear from the information we already have, but serious and legitimate questions remain. Governor Cooper has avoided further explanation for months, and that only adds to the appearance of wrong-doing. We hope there were no serious legal or ethical lapses, but the subcommittees and its investigators will use all of the power vested in them to find the truth.”
State House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said in opening remarks, “I had the opportunity during the Hurricane Matthew floods to see firsthand what happened. I saw the loss of property, the loss of business, and the personal tragedy affecting the folks in its path. There are a lot of questions here two years later.”
Hurricane Matthew struck nearly two years ago, and federal aid has been available to North Carolina for distribution to disaster victims for more than 20 months.
While South Carolina has already placed people in more than 100 new or repaired homes, to date not a single project in North Carolina has been completed. Earlier this summer, reporting by WBTV revealed that Governor Cooper and his administration ignored the recommendations of their own review panel and attempted to award a multi-million dollar contract to a preferred vendor with a checkered performance history.
During the hearing, Senator Danny Britt (R-Robeson) discussed correspondence one of his constituents received from Governor Cooper’s administration over one year ago promising action “in the near future” on her home buyout. She still remains out of her home. Senator Britt said, “Governor Cooper’s administration has failed my neighbors and so many others across Eastern North Carolina. They’re still waiting desperately and in vain for help.”
The subcommittee that was authorized to investigate the struggling relief program will look into the decisions that have delayed aid distribution, including why it took the governor six months to re-submit required environmental reviews after the federal government rejected the first set. The subcommittee will also seek to determine the exact sequence of events that led to the governor’s decision to ignore the expert recommendations and try to award a major contract to one company.
The Commission also heard a presentation from Senator Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) regarding the suspicious permitting process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Governor Cooper has refused to answer questions from the legislature on the subject, but reporting by WRAL revealed that Governor Cooper and his administration negotiated a shift in the control of the $57.8 million payout from a career bureaucrat to a discretionary fund personally controlled by Governor Cooper.
During those negotiations, the Governor and his administration delayed a crucial permit.
The day after the pipeline sponsors agreed to pay $57.8 million to Governor Cooper’s slush fund, the Governor approved the requisite permit.
Senator Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) said, “The governor reserved for himself the power to use $57.8 million as he saw fit. By what authority did Governor Cooper believe he had the right to nearly unfettered discretion over how to appropriate these funds? The facts illustrate this and six other important reasons for further investigation. We need to assure prospective business partners that there is no pay-to-play in North Carolina.”
The Commission voted to form another subcommittee to investigate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permitting process. Members of each subcommittee will be announced in the coming days and will meet shortly thereafter. Each subcommittee holds subpoena power and the authority to hire outside investigators.
Senator Berger continued, “Despite Governor Cooper’s attempts to stonewall the legislature, excellent reporting has brought to light very serious questions. The subcommittees formed today will continue to seek the truth, wherever it may lead.”