Support grows for moving SBI to Public Safety Department

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJune 3, 2014 

  • Where the budget stands

    House subcommittees began meeting Tuesday to consider the $21.2 billion spending plan the Senate approved Saturday. The House expects to come up with its own budget and approve it by the end of next week.

    McCrory: Compromise may be difficult

    Gov. Pat McCrory continued to issue stern warnings about the direction lawmakers are taking the state budget. “We have some very serious concerns,” McCrory said.

    McCrory said compromise in the end may prove difficult.

    “It’s not going to be easy, because there are some tough decisions we all have to make, and we got every interest group in North Carolina competing against each other for their own particularly interests,” he said.

    Cuts decried in subcommittees

    In the appropriation subcommittees, House lawmakers heard concerns over some of the Senate provisions. Jeff Marecic, the recently hired chief technology information officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, told the justice and public safety subcommittee that the Senate’s proposed 24 percent cut to that division’s budget was “potentially devastating.”

    He said that kind of a cut would make it impossible to upgrade and even challenge its ability to maintain current systems.

    Meanwhile, the House education spending committee heard from the state’s top education leaders: Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, June Atkinson, the superintendent of public instruction, and UNC President Tom Ross. All want to stave off any further cuts.

    Cobey, in an animated address, urged House lawmakers not to go along with the Senate’s proposed cut of 30 percent, or about $15 million, to the Department of Public Instruction. “It’s made me feel as if, with a 30 percent cut, the Senate are treating us like the children of Israel,” Cobey said. “They want us to make bricks without straw. I’m asking you to stand up strong against that idea.”

    Staff writers Craig Jarvis, and Lynn Bonner and Patrick Gannon of the NC Insider

— Support for moving the State Bureau of Investigation under the governor’s control solidified Tuesday, as the proposal picked up support in the House and an administration official assured that the integrity of public corruption cases could be protected.

A key budget-writer said that the House spending plan would reflect the Senate’s budget provision taking the SBI out of Attorney General Roy Cooper’s justice department and putting it in Gov. Pat McCrory’s Department of Public Safety.

Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Republican from Smithfield who is a co-chairman of the House budget committee on justice and public safety, said members drafting the House budget wanted to be sure the SBI would remain independent. Putting in place a director who is chosen by the governor and approved by the General Assembly for an eight-year term, as the Senate recommends, satisfies that concern, he said.

McCrory told reporters on Tuesday that Frank Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, supports the move, and the two plan to meet soon to discuss it in detail.

“He is strongly recommending consolidation of those resources to me,” McCrory said.

Perry is a retired FBI agent who directed investigations at the state auditor’s office, worked with the state Ethics Commission, and was director of investigations and public affairs for a public ethics foundation he helped form.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Perry said the move reflects the direction law enforcement is headed nationally: consolidating in order to share intelligence quickly in a post-9/11 world, adding that he is the designated U.S. Homeland Security adviser for North Carolina. Perry said the two previous administrations considered the move during an era of Democratic rule, and that 41 other states have similar arrangements.

He said the SBI would still pursue the kinds of cases it does now: crimes against children, cybercrime, arson, theft of state property, and assist local agencies. In public corruption investigations initiated at the request of local district attorneys, Perry said, it makes sense for the attorney general to still oversee those cases, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, through its special unit of prosecutors who assist district attorneys or replace them if they have been recused.

“I would welcome that scrutiny,” Perry said.

He said he favors the idea of a director appointed by the governor for a long term, and who can only be removed for drastic reasons. He said it was similar to how the FBI is structured. “That would take a lot away from the argument that it is a political move,” Perry said.

Cooper opposes the move, saying it would make the SBI less independent. A number of prosecutors and the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association are also opposed to moving the agency out of the Department of Justice.

“There’s still time for both the full House and the Governor to support the wishes of law enforcement across North Carolina and stop this move,” Cooper’s spokewoman, Noelle Talley, said Tuesday. “The timing of this sudden shift jeopardizes the integrity of ongoing public corruption investigations.”

The proposed move has raised concerns that it is politically motivated because it would shift the state’s premiere investigatory force, the State Crime Lab and 638 employees out from under a Democratic attorney general to a Republican governor – both of whom could face each other in a gubernatorial campaign in 2016.

Staff writer John Frank contributed.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service