Tony Tata used to work in government and write military thrillers on the side. Now he has abruptly quit as secretary of the state Department of Transportation and left a real-life mystery in his place.
Why did the former U.S. Army brigadier general leave his post?
Tata says he resigned without notice Tuesday because he’s weary from completing major projects, he needs time to fulfill a book contract and he wants to spend more time with his family. That’s his story. It isn’t convincing. Tata may have worked hard, but the output wasn’t impressive. A new Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks is going forward, but that’s largely a result of a legal compromise with environmentalists who successfully got the bridge plan altered. An online driver’s license renewal program is about to launch. And the state is starting the first year of transportation funding under Gov. Pat McCrory’s 10-year plan.
That’s about it in terms of notable accomplishments. Meanwhile, there have been setbacks. McCrory’s request for a $3 billion bond package to fund roads and other state infrastructure needs is getting a cold reception in the General Assembly, and Republican lawmakers are micromanaging DOT, ordering layoffs and pressing Tata to spin off DOT functions to private contractors.
Certainly the lure of literary success doesn’t explain why Tata is leaving his $135,000-a-year job overseeing a department with 14,000 employees and a $4 billion budget. His latest paperback “Foreign and Domestic” is a long way from a best-seller.
Tata’s sudden departure leaves his department in the lurch at a time when DOT is facing pressure from the General Assembly to shed jobs. That situation will make it harder to attract a highly qualified successor.
Tata’s resignation after two and a half years marks another early exit from a top post. He was fired as Wake County’s superintendent of schools after 21 months following a school bus system fiasco. Prior to that, he served 20 months as chief operating officer for Washington, D.C. schools. His civilian government jobs came after a 28-year military career.
No experience is ever lost on an author, and perhaps Tata has gained fodder for his next intrigue. But the state’s transportation needs were not well-served by the appointment of one who could not serve through the governor’s first term nor depart with proper notice.