Naming Tata as DOT chief raises politics over credentials

January 3, 2013 

Gov.-elect Pat McCrory’s choice of Tony Tata as state secretary of transportation is justifiably controversial. Tata’s brief tenure as Wake County schools superintendent ended shortly after a transportation fiasco, when he took buses off the road to save money and chaos erupted before the buses, and order, were restored. Prior to that, Tata, a retired Army general, had tried to make friends in the community, but he had stormy relationships with Democratic members of the board.

The DOT, long riddled with political patronage problems under Democratic governors, was straightened out by the departing secretary Gene Conti, who had experience in the state department and in the federal Department of Transportation before taking the job. Tata’s lack of experience is quite a contrast, and raises suspicions that his appointment is a political statement by McCrory’s budget guru and adviser Art Pope, the Raleigh businessman who contributed heavily to the GOP majority in the General Assembly. Prior to that, Pope helped win a temporary Republican majority on the school board. That majority hired Tata in 2010 despite his scant qualifications as an educator.

The DOT has 14,000 employees, and it’s constantly at risk from political influence by people who want a say in road projects. The secretary must have bureaucratic, technical and political skills. The job is more complex now with movements toward mass transit in the state’s urban corridors. This is not the place for Pope’s payback.

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