Under the Dome

Not just any state mental hospital chief will do

January 13, 2009 

Politics + Media = extra $$.

The new state mental hospital needed more than a regular old director. That's why the state Department of Health and Human Services had to hire J. Michael Hennike as a contractor to run Central Regional Hospital in Butner, it explained in its contract.

DHHS hired him under a contract with the UNC-Chapel Hill medical school's psychiatry department. For eight months, he'll make $123,341. Annually, his salary will be $185,012.

"CRH is in the middle of merging operations between John Umstead Hospital and Dorothea Dix Hospital, and the process is highly political and involves the media," the contract's "problem statement" says. "A seasoned manager with vast experience is needed."

Hiring Hennike as a contractor allowed DHHS to pay him about $70,000 more a year than the going rate.

Although DHHS announced Hennike started Jan. 1, DHHS said he's actually been running the place since Nov. 1. That's when his contract started.

Mark Van Sciver, a DHHS spokesman, said Mike Lancaster, the interim director who made way for Hennike, was the "titular head" for a while. Hennike is expected to run Central Regional for two years, according to the contract.

Hennike, who ran the Murdock Center in Butner for years, suspended his state pension payments Dec. 1, according to the state Treasurer's Office.

Easley gives Meyer job

On his last day at work, former Gov. Mike Easley gave the acting head of the Department of Cultural Resources a new job.

Easley appointed Staci Meyer to the N.C. Industrial Commission. Meyer was the chief deputy and general counsel to the department who ran things when Secretary Libba Evans went on extended unpaid leave.

Meyer spoke for the department in defense of two departmental trips to Europe that included first lady Mary Easley.

Meyer told her staff of her appointment Monday. The commission oversees workers' compensation.

Long's number not up

Jim Long may be gone, but his number is not forgotten.

After serving as state insurance commissioner from 1984 until earlier this month, Long has left an imprint on his former department.

Specifically, its consumer hotline.

The number, 800-546-5664, still spells out 800-JIM-LONG on the phone keypad.

His successor, Wayne Goodwin, may have some trouble finding a new number. 800-GOODWIN is already taken by Goodwin and Scieszka, a Michigan personal injury law firm.

A top defender

A defense lawyer who specializes in death penalty cases is taking the helm at the nonprofit that helps inmates challenge their convictions and looks into complaints of poor prison conditions.

The board of directors for N.C. Prisoner Legal Services hired Mary Pollard to lead the 28-year-old nonprofit. It is based in Raleigh and has a staff of 37, including 16 lawyers.

Pollard might be best known for representing Alan Gell, a death row inmate who was wrongfully convicted in 1998 of killing a retired truck driver in Bertie County.

She used a new law requiring access to prosecutorial files to find evidence proving that Gell could not have committed the murder. He was acquitted in a second trial.

A Wake Forest University law school graduate, Pollard worked nearly 10 years for the Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice law firm before joining the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation in 2002 as a staff lawyer.

Etheridge's focus

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge will focus on trade matters and oversight issues in his first term on the influential Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives.

Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat, is the first North Carolinian named to the committee since 1953. The committee is the source of all tax bills and has jurisdiction over Medicare and Social Security.

Etheridge was named recently to the subcommittees on Trade and Oversight.

The oversight panel will give Etheridge a position to help shape the economic recovery plan being pushed by President-elect Barack Obama. Etheridge last week wrote Obama asking him to include Etheridge's school construction proposal in the plan.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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