New NC Treasurer Dale Folwell opens lines of communication

Dale Folwell’s election as state treasurer could bring big changes to how the department is managed.
Dale Folwell’s election as state treasurer could bring big changes to how the department is managed. AP

New state Treasurer Dale Folwell plans to jump start his plan to bring a new level of transparency to the office by launching a monthly teleconference during which reporters can ask him about anything they want.

“You’ve got to know what you’re talking about when you do a call like that, or you have to be willing to say publicly that you don’t know something in answer to a question,” Folwell said in an interview. “I have a track record of doing both those things.”

If he can’t answer a question on the spot, Folwell promised, the reporter will get an answer within 48 hours.

In the same vein, Folwell plans to telegraph any policy changes he implements.

“I’m not going to do something and then explain it,” he said. “When you are the keeper of the public purse, you have a responsibility to explain things and then do them.”

Folwell, 57, was sworn in as the 28th state Treasurer on New Year’s Day at a private ceremony conducted by state Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Edmunds Jr. Folwell, a Republican, defeated Democrat Dan Blue III in November. The incumbent, Democrat Janet Cowell, chose not to seek a third term.

Folwell is well-known in the political arena after being elected to four terms in the state House and serving as House speaker pro-tem. He also headed the state Division of Employment Security under former Gov. Pat McCrory.

A certified public accountant, Folwell is a former registered investment adviser. He also has worked as a gas station attendant, custodian, trash collector and motorcycle mechanic.

Folwell’s candidacy was endorsed by the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which mostly backs Democrats, as well as major law enforcement, firefighter and first responder groups. One of his campaign pledges that apparently resonated with voters was his promise to slash the annual management fees paid by the $90 billion state pension fund by $100 million.

Folwell said that, in his first 100 days in office, he’ll take a hard look at the state’s outside money managers, including how much they’re paid and how their investments are performing.

“Once I start down that process, we will quickly figure out where the opportunities are to cut $100 million in fees,” he said. “Now it won’t happen, obviously, all in the first year because of ... contractual arrangements” that may extend beyond 2017.

Folwell also is focused on making the State Health Plan more efficient so that he can make good on a campaign pledge to freeze monthly premiums on family coverage.

“This health plan is one of the largest purchasers of health care in North Carolina,” he said. “My intuition, and the state employees’ intuition and the taxpayers’ intuition, is that we should be able to run the plan more efficiently.”

Freezing family premiums for 2018 – premiums for this year have already been set – could benefit the plan by attracting younger, healthier employees who eschew coverage for their families because the premiums are too high.

During his stint as the head of the Division of Employment Security, Folwell oversaw the repayment of $2.5 billion in debt the state owed the federal government – money that was borrowed to cover state-funded unemployment benefits after unemployment soared when the recession struck. Folwell said a number of the efficiencies he introduced at the agency were suggested by employees at the division who no one had bothered listening to.

“Good leadership is about being a good listener,” he said, adding that he plans to solicit ideas from the more than 400 employees the treasurer oversees.

Folwell is acutely aware that voters listened to his campaign promises – and expect him to deliver on them.

“When you apply for a job, it is based on what you have done and what you have told people you are going to do,” he said. “And if you don’t do what you told your employers you are going to do, then you’re out of a job. And my employer is the voters and taxpayers of North Carolina.”

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii