Hospital ties to be disclosed

Staff WriterApril 22, 2004 

After questions about not officially disclosing her husband's connection to a Charlotte hospital, Carmen Hooker Odom, head of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said she is going to add it to her state ethics statement.

Fountain Odom, Hooker Odom's husband and a former state senator, is a member of Carolinas Medical Center's board.

All this has come up because Carolinas Medical makes prominent appearances in a recent news-making state audit. The audit criticizes Hooker Odom's agency for handing over control of hospital Medicaid reimbursements to Carolinas Medical and its Greensboro lawyer.

Hooker Odom is careful to point out that the arrangement began several years before she took over the department, that it ended before the audit was released and that she didn't know about it until she had been in her job more than a year.

The ethics disclosure form requires government appointees to report "any individual or business entity with which you or your spouse have a financial or professional relationship" that would create a conflict or the appearance of a conflict.

Hooker Odom said she does not think her husband's board membership qualifies, and "the actual question is ambiguously worded," but she's going to add the information to the ethics statement anyway.

Helms endorses two

In the 13th Congressional District Republican primary, two candidates can boast of having the endorsement of conservative icon Jesse Helms.

Virginia Johnson of Greensboro, a former Washington lawyer, has a photo of herself shaking hands with the former senator featured prominently on a campaign flyer and on her Web site.

Graham Boyd of Wake County, who lost in the 2002 primary, has Helms' endorsement, too.

"This may be a first in North Carolina politics," Helms said in a letter last week of his dual endorsement.

Boyd hasn't gotten around to printing campaign literature, but he promises Republican voters will see a picture of him and Helms together. "In fact, I may have several," said Boyd, director of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina.

Helms' letter talks about how he has worked with Boyd over the years on their favorite issue, tobacco. He says Johnson "Is impressive and has served with distinction in key staff positions in the U.S. House."

Until she quit last fall to campaign full time, Johnson was an attorney in the House. She began working there as a staff attorney in 1996, and after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, worked for the Armed Services Committee.

"I think I've acquired some excellent skills through my service in Washington," Johnson said.

Johnson and Boyd expect more Republicans to sign up to run in the 13th District when filing opens next week. The winner will likely face incumbent Democrat Brad Miller of Raleigh, who is running for a second term.

Vinroot lauds Campbell

Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot had some nice words for state Auditor Ralph Campbell, a Democrat.

In a news conference this week criticizing Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and Hooker Odom over the Medicaid audit, Vinroot said Campbell "at this point is the only shining light in this process."

Probably not what Republican Les Merritt, the Zebulon CPA running for auditor, wanted to hear.

Staff writer Lynn Bonner can be reached at 829-4821 or lbonner@newsobserver.com.

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