Adviser has job on side

September 2, 2003 

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CORRECTIONS

An item in the Under the Dome column in the City & State section Tuesday should have made clear that state officials are required to reimburse the state for commuting to and from work in state-owned vehicles.

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House Speaker Jim Black's budget adviser, Rita Harris, has more going for her than the two big pay raises she earned in the past several months.

Harris has been working a four-day week since March, when she joined the Raleigh staff of U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge as a part-time staff assistant.

Etheridge spokeswoman Sara Lang said Harris joined the congressman's staff at the end of March. Harris answers phones, opens mail and responds to constituents for about eight hours a week, Lang said. She earns $10.40 an hour.

That's a far cry from Harris' new pay rate at the Legislative Building, where she earns $66,000 a year thanks to two large raises : a $9,900 bump on March 17 and an $11,100 increase July 1. All told, Harris' legislative pay has risen 47 percent this year, from $45,000.

Harris' legislative pay amounts to an hourly rate of $31.73, assuming a 40-hour work week. Based on a 32-hour week, though, her hourly rate is $39.66.

Harris did not return phone calls to Etheridge's office in Raleigh, where she was at work Friday, according to a woman who answered the phone. District Director Russ Swindell said the office has a policy to direct all media inquiries to Lang in Washington.

Swindell, incidentally, is the husband of Meredith Swindell, who is Black's executive assistant in the Legislative Building. Lang said Harris and Russ Swindell have known each other for a long time, and that's how Harris came to know of the job opportunity with Etheridge.

Black was traveling Friday in California and was unavailable for an interview. But before boarding a plane in San Francisco, he relayed a comment to The News & Observer through a legislative aide, Patrick Clancy.

Black said Harris has accrued leave days. He agreed to an arrangement in which she uses leave time on Fridays when the legislature is not in session, Clancy said.

"What Rita does with her leave is her business," Black said, according to Clancy.

Why the state SUV?

State Treasurer Richard Moore earned several jeers from News & Observer readers who read recently that the treasurer asked Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker for help resolving his parking ticket dispute with the city.

But what really got some readers' dander up was the fact that Moore got some of the parking tickets -- for parking in the wrong direction in front of his home -- on a state-owned Chevrolet Tahoe.

"Why on earth do the taxpayers of the state of North Carolina give Mr. Moore a four-wheel-drive SUV to drive back and forth to his air-conditioned office on paved streets?" asked Tom Badger of Raleigh.

Only one other member of the Council of State drives an SUV: Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. State Auditor Ralph Campbell, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Ward and Insurance Commissioner Jim Long drive Ford Crown Victorias.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb have no state-issued cars. Neither do Gov. Mike Easley, Attorney General Roy Cooper or Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue. But the latter three are driven in state cars by the security agents who protect them.

Moore said he drives an SUV because of bad knees.

By staff writer Amy Gardner, who can be reached at 829-8902 or agardner@newsobserver.com.

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