State Politics

February 6, 2014

Gov. McCrory loses his top jobs adviser in latest shake-up

Gov. Pat McCrory’s top jobs adviser is stepping down, the latest in a string of high-profile departures shaking up the administration.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s top economic adviser is stepping down, the latest in a series of high-profile departures reshaping the administration.

Tony Almeida, 58, leaves his post Friday as the governor’s senior adviser for jobs and the economy, just as the administration looks to advance its so-called “jobs plan” and keep alive a stalled effort to partially privatize the state’s commerce department.

Almeida played a key role in both initiatives, but the former Duke Energy executive from Salisbury said the timing was right for his departure. In an interview Thursday, he said he is retiring to spend more time with his family, including his ill mother.

“I told the governor I had a number of things I wanted to help him with and when we got that jobs plan done on Jan. 24 that was it,” he said after a conference on the state’s agriculture industry in Raleigh.

His departure is the fourth in a five-week span and the second from McCrory’s economic team. Almeida’s deputy, Blannie Cheng, left the McCrory administration Dec. 31. The governor’s office did not provide a reason for her exit.

It is not unusual for the governor’s office to experience turnover after its first year. But since McCrory took office in January 2013, he has lost seven key staffers, according to state personnel records, including three of his five highest-paid aides.

In addition to Almeida, who made $135,000, senior adviser Jonathan Felts left in January.

Felts, a former official under President George W. Bush, took a job with a Raleigh public affairs firm. Communications Director Chris Walker resigned in March.

The other significant departure came in January when the administration lost the chief spokesman at the embattled Department of Health and Human Services. Ricky Diaz, a former governor’s office staffer, left to work at a Washington-based political consulting firm.

Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan also left in July amid questions.

McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo said Thursday the recent departures were not related, nor reflective of any concern within the administration.

Phil Kirk, who served as a chief of staff for two former N.C. Republican governors, said turnover is normal in any administration. “Sometimes there’s just not the right fit. People will decide they just aren’t cut out for state government,” he said.

Almeida played a key role in the governor’s push for offshore drilling and the formation of his military affairs commission. But his role developing the jobs plan and outlining the commerce reorganization defined his tenure. It dovetailed with his prior three decades at Duke Energy, in which he worked for a time as vice president for economic development.

The administration recently delayed its drive for a public-private partnership to lead the state’s economic development efforts amid concerns from lawmakers.

Staff researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.

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