Perdue picks six for DOT board

Five of them donated to her campaigns

Staff WriterJuly 10, 2009 

Gov. Beverly Perdue has chosen four Democrats and two Republicans for the state Board of Transportation -- her first appointments since she announced plans to scale back undue influence by board members in North Carolina road-building decisions.

Five of her six picks, including both Republicans, gave money to the Democratic governor's campaign last year.

Perdue submitted the new names recently for review by a legislative oversight committee, as required by state ethics laws.

Charles D. "Chuck" Watts Jr. of Durham, a lawyer and insurance executive, was tapped to represent Division 5, including Durham, Wake and five other counties. Watts will succeed Ken Spaulding of Durham, who stepped down in March. Election records show that Watts, a Democrat, has not contributed campaign money to Perdue.

Also to be seated at the board's meeting Aug. 6 are:

Charlotte developer John Collett, a Republican, to the five-county Division 10 seat. Collett, 52, has given $6,000 to Perdue campaigns since 2007.

Hugh Overholt, a New Bern lawyer and retired Army general, to the eight-county Division 2 seat. Overholt, 75, a Republican, has given Perdue $12,500 since 1998.

Leigh Harvey McNairy of Kinston to succeed Kinston businessman Cameron McRae as the board's at-large member for ports and aviation. McRae resigned in May after The News & Observer reported that he failed to disclose airplane flights he had provided former Gov. Mike Easley. McNairy, who was a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2000, has given Perdue $8,000 since 2005.

Ralph H. Womble, a Winston-Salem investor, to the five-county Division 9 seat. Womble, a Democrat, has given $10,805 to Perdue since 2006.

Wanda J. Proffitt, 67, a Burnsville real estate executive, to the seven-county Division 13 seat. Proffitt, a Democrat, and her husband have given $6,266 to Perdue campaigns since 2004.

Since Perdue took office in January, the transportation board has stopped voting on bridge replacements, highway repairs and other DOT contracts. Such spending decisions have been shifted to Gene Conti, Perdue's transportation secretary.

Conti says local views will still be considered in DOT decision-making, but he and Perdue will eliminate favoritism and special preferences. Board members will set DOT policy and approve long-range plans.

Appointees' priorities

Several appointees said the governor had not told them much about the board's changing role. They said that, like their predecessors, they would speak up for the needs of their communities.

"I'm going to try to get as many dollars as possible to be spent here in Charlotte, but I know we're all dealing with limited resources," Collett said. "Charlotte is the only U.S. city its size not to have an outer beltway in place."

Proffitt said she would push for better roads in Western North Carolina -- as she adapts to the new way of doing business in Raleigh.

"I know she wants the DOT board to function differently," Proffitt said. "Rather than looking at political factors, the engineers who know more about road-building will make the decisions. I am anxious to find out more details and will follow her wishes."

Perdue has yet to replace four other Easley appointees.

Past conflicts

D.M. "Mac" Campbell Jr. of Elizabethtown, an Easley fundraiser, quit the Division6 seat in April. Lewis W. Sewell Jr. of Jacksonville, a fundraiser for Easley and Perdue, quit his seat as a rural transportation expert in September after The N&O reported that he had steered $375,000 of DOT work to roads near his property.

Board chairman Douglas Galyon of Greensboro has signaled his wish to step down from the Division 7 seat. G.R. Kindley Jr. of Rockingham submitted his resignation Thursday from the Division 8 seat.

Bob Hall of Durham, who heads the campaign watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, said Easley gave some of his top fundraisers too much power in local DOT decisions.

"It is wrong to have one person who is a major money person act as a noble in charge of each fiefdom," Hall said. "So I'm glad [Perdue] is taking steps to move away from that."

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527

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