Senator takes a swing at Hall’s ‘parachute’

acurliss@newsobserver.comJuly 19, 2013 

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, leveled intense criticism Thursday about a severance account for Rural Center president Billy Ray Hall that was disclosed to the public in a footnote within a critical state audit.

Auditors wrote that the account was started in 2003 and has grown with deposits of $10,000 to $40,000 annually. As of June last year, the account had $241,856 in it, according to the audit.

It is on top of annual salary and benefits the agency paid to Hall. State auditors wrote Wednesday that Hall’s $221,000 salary, which included a car allowance, is “unreasonable” when compared with similar nonprofit presidents.

Berger said Hall should not receive a “golden parachute” severance in the wake of a News & Observer two-part series last month and then the state audit this week.

“While Mr. Hall’s resignation is a good first step in cleaning up the blatant abuse of taxpayer money by the Rural Center, it is wrong for him to take a ‘golden parachute’ severance package under these circumstances,” Berger said.

Hall could not be reached for comment.

Rural Center board Chairwoman Valeria Lee said the center will seek to honor the severance. She described the account as one way the center sought to show “appreciation.”

“It was a real carefully considered approach to his compensation and trying to respond to him in a way that showed appreciation for what he was doing and how effective he had been,” she said.

The Rural Center says it has used money from the state to create thousands of jobs, and many of the grants have been in the same range as the $240,000 set aside for Hall. For example, the center says it created 210 jobs at a Walmart in Cherryville with a $240,000 grant in 2006.

Lee said that with his severance, Hall might stimulate the economy.

“He will spend it, I’m sure, and maybe create some jobs,” Lee said.

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