Data sought on DOT liaison

Ex-Southport mayor held post

staff writerMay 15, 2010 

The former mayor of Southport was paid $129,000 over nearly seven years by the state Department of Transportation in a contract job as a liaison, but there are few records to document what he did.

Norman Holden, a friend of former Gov. Mike Easley who was the on-and-off mayor of the coastal town for more than two decades, was given the job of being a point of contact between DOT and 11 counties in the southeastern part of the state after Easley was elected. The job started in January 2002 and was renewed each year by the Easley administration at a salary of $19,800 through November 2008. Holden was not paid for some months in which he was on vacation.

The contract position was not a secret; it was reported at the time in several newspapers, including The News & Observer. His mayoral office in Southport had a sign on the door that said it was a regional office for the governor.

Federal authorities have asked for a copy of Holden's contracts in a subpoena made public Friday. Holden could not be reached Friday. His wife said in the afternoon that he was asleep and could not speak with a reporter. Subsequent attempts to reach him failed.

The request is part of an ongoing investigation into activities of Easley's administration. A grand jury reviewing the case meets again next week.

Investigators also want to see a range of other documents, such as payments and business dealings, involving people who served under Easley at the state Department of Transportation.

Others who are listed as "relevant parties" for information to be provided by DOT to the grand jury include Easley's former transportation secretary, Lyndo Tippett; former deputy secretary Dan DeVane; former DMV commissioner George Tatum; and former DOT board members Louis Sewell and Lanny Wilson.

Wilson is the Wilmington financier who let longtime Easley aide Ruffin Poole into the controversial coastal Cannonsgate land deal, paying Poole a cut of the profits while Poole helped speed along permits. Poole has pleaded guilty in federal court to a tax evasion charge.

A lawyer for Easley declined to comment. The former governor has said he is comfortable with the ongoing probe of his administration.

Authorities also are seeking documents relating to Easley's home in Southport, according to the subpoena issued to DOT.

Investigators will not discuss their probe, and so it is unclear why they are making such requests. The grand jury work is done in secret, though some subpoenas become public when they are issued to state agencies, such as DOT.

DOT officials reviewed work reports made by Holden and could not specifically comment on whether they justified his position. The work reports show Holden was in frequent contact with Wilson, who was a DOT board member.

But Greer Beaty, a spokeswoman for the agency, stressed that the liaison position was in the Easley administration and not the current one under Gov. Bev Perdue. Both are Democrats.

"There is absolutely no one in our agency now who is operating on this kind of a contract in this administration," she said. "We don't have anything like this in this administration."

DOT has reports on Holden's work that cover roughly a year. Beaty said there are no other files.

Holden's activities

The reports of his work on the DOT contract reflect that he dealt each month with three to seven DOT issues in and around Southport, the kind of thing a mayor might handle as part of his job, too.

He also reported to higher-ups at DOT that he:

Recommended in April 2008 that state ports officials hire a lobbyist to bring a "more positive message" to people in Southport about a planned major state port there.

Had presented several people with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, a top state award, on behalf of Easley in summer 2008.

Ran "four errands for the Governor" in March 2007.

Met with a top Easley staffer, Susan Rabon, "regarding the appointment of a District Court Judge in New Hanover County" in April 2007.

Met with Rabon in May 2007 "concerning replacement and promotion of employees in Brunswick County."

Talked with Easley about "roads in the area - increased traffic" in summer 2007.

acurliss@nando.com or 919-829-4840

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