Frank Perry, the former senior FBI agent who now heads the state Department of Public Safety, prides himself on his reputation as a stand-up guy. Indeed, he has been a straight talker from his days in law enforcement and has been respected by elected officials Republican and Democratic.
But Perry seems to be digging himself into a controversy over an October 2014 meeting among Gov. Pat McCrory and senior officials and Graeme Keith Sr. and Graeme Keith Jr., who held through their companies lucrative contracts to do prison maintenance. McCrory, a friend of the Keiths, arranged the meeting.
But the story of what happened and what was said at the meeting and by whom gets a little confusing after that. And Perry has given contradictory versions of his recollections of the meeting.
Keith Sr. disputes it, but he is alleged to have said at the meeting – the governor says Keith didn’t say it to him – that he had given a lot of political contributions over the years and it was time for him to “get something in return.” Obviously, that would be an outrageous attempt to gain an advantage in state contracts because of campaign contributions. No one is naive enough to think contributors do so out of the goodness of their hearts, but Keith’s alleged statement, with the governor in the room, seems particularly blatant.
Once The N&O reported Keith’s statement at the meeting, McCrory said that he hadn’t heard the remark and that Perry had told him that he, McCrory, had been in a “side conversation” when the remark was made.
But in a Jan. 14 interview, Perry said, “I don’t recall that,” about McCrory’s statement regarding the side conversation. Then, after The N&O published a story online Thursday, Perry issued a statement contradicting what he said in that Jan. 14 interview. He said in that statement that, “My recollection is exactly the same as the governor’s. … Everything the governor and I did during the meeting and throughout this process was proper and ethical.”
After the October 2014 meeting, the governor asked Lee Roberts, his budget director, to determine whether Keith’s contracts, not endorsed by other state officials who were not as enthusiastic about “privatization” of services, should be extended. Roberts recommended they be extended for one year. They now have expired. Roberts, after a relatively short tenure, has resigned as budget director.
McCrory has a responsibility to clarify this, and yet he has declined to comment of late. That’s not helping his own credibility, and Perry’s apparently conflicting statements aren’t helping him. The public deserves more.