On the carpet

The State Auditor gives the right answer to a demand that she quiet down: No.

July 21, 2012 

State Auditor Beth Wood and members of her office were doing their jobs, and doing them thoroughly, in reporting that two top officials of the Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) had misused state cars by taking them to their homes in the Asheville area on weekends. Now, in a preposterous response, lawyers for ALE Director John Ledford have demanded that Wood stop “disseminating” her critical report that Ledford and Deputy Director Allen Page used the cars for those trips.

The problem is, the report has already been given to the governor’s office, the General Assembly and the news media. (The News & Observer reported on it several weeks ago, and an editorial on this page followed.) So now the lawyers want Wood to stuff the rabbit back in the hat? What’s next? A letter demanding that “Auditor Wood forthwith put Humpty Dumpty back together again?”

But to no one’s surprise, at least not to anyone who knows the determined, tough Wood, she delivered her answer to Ledford’s lawyers Thursday. It was: No. That was the right answer, too, for a request, or rather demand, that was so silly. The very idea that Wood would be told to stand silent as she was going to discuss this and other issues with a group of legislators is ludicrous.

Beth Wood is the independently elected state auditor. The people put her in office. The people expect her to be up front, candid and forthright with the findings of her office, no matter whose feathers might be ruffled.

That’s exactly what she was here, and the facts are the facts, and Wood’s staff during her tenure, and in fact preceding her tenure, has had a good record for pursuing audits without favoring anyone or “going after” anyone.

Alas, this isn’t the first brush with embarrassment for the ALE in recent years. There was the controversy over agents getting a chance to buy fancy firearms at a bargain, the episode when vehicles were not registered on time, the debate over why ALE agents had fancier and more expensive equipment than the Highway Patrol and other law enforcement. The agency is under the state Department of Public Safety, where Secretary Reuben Young has defended the ALE without hesitation.

How about a little hesitation from Gov. Beverly Perdue? Unless Ledford and Page can demonstrate that Wood is just wrong, and there’s no sign of that yet, they need to appear on the governor’s carpet, along with Young. Disciplinary action for the two, which Wood’s report recommended, seems appropriate. And Young needs to learn that a knee-jerk defense of subordinates isn’t always the right decision.

He also needs to direct those agencies that report to him to cooperate with other state offices, which Wood says the ALE did not. No matter what kind of fancy heat the agency may pack, the auditor as she carries out her official duties deserves respect.

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