It is ironic that Gov. Pat McCrory has been taking a lot of heat lately for two young campaign aides getting generous salaries for top jobs in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Because the buzz in Republican circles is that McCrory has been pretty miserly when it comes to rewarding his political backers. There hasnt been a Republican governor for 20 years in North Carolina the longest dry spell of any state in the country for the GOP except for Oregon and Washington.
So the people who helped McCrory get elected last year and who feel as though they had been shut out of state jobs for two decades had expected there would be a lot of opportunities in the McCrory administration. The legislature obliged by increasing the number of political patronage slots people exempt from the civil service protections of the State Personnel Act from 400 to 1,500.
An operations guy
But GOP leaders and McCrory backers across the state say they have a hard time getting their calls returned. They wonder who is even in charge of patronage.
When I asked the governor about the complaints, he replied, We have heard it, too.
He seemed unconcerned. Most of the talent I need is for operational issues and not policy and political issues, he said. I am looking for the best.
This fits with McCrorys mantra that he is an operations guy, whose chief concern is to try to make state government work better.
Among the things that McCrory says he wants to improve is the state personnel system. His administration put forward a bill rewriting the state personnel law. The most contentious part removed the employee appeals process from independent administrative law judges to hearing officers named by political appointees of the governor. State employee groups, attorneys who represent state employees and academic experts said such a move would have had the effect of stripping 90,000 state employees of their civil service protections, making them at-will employees.
But the measure was watered down in the Senate. McCrory said he only got 25 percent of what he wanted.
McCrory said the changes were not about politics but about giving his Cabinet secretaries the flexibility they need to hire qualified people.
The dilemma that I have is there are a lot of political leftovers all the way back to the (Jim) Hunt administration that dont have operational experience, and I cant do a thing with them, McCrory said. If you move them, he added, they have to be given a commensurate job.
In one department, Ive got three CFOs (chief financial officers), with one doing the work and two others who are not qualified to do the work, the governor said. The other two are political appointees from past administrations. ... Frankly, I am not going to transfer them to another department and dump them off on other people.
A political appointee who has been here over 10 years basically has a job for a lifetime unless they do something extremely bad, McCrory said.
McCrory said he plans to start a system of performance management, bringing some private-sector practices to state government.
But McCrory is finding out that state government is not Duke Energy, where both he and his personnel director, Neal Alexander, used to work. And trying to operate a system shot through with politics is not easy. The state employees are watching. The Democrats are watching. And so are the Republicans.