Under the Dome

Ex-DENR spokesman running political news startup

Now we know why Drew Elliot, the chief spokesman for the state’s environmental regulatory agency, abruptly resigned last month, leaving other state communications officers claiming to have no idea where he went.

He is running a state political news website.

Calling it Jones + Blount (Jones for the street the legislative building is on, and Blount for the nearby street where the governor resides), the start-up so far looks like other political blogs commenting on the scene in North Carolina. The current edition – which you can find at www.jonesandblount.com – has opinion pieces on recent issues, legislation and controversies.

The operation is being run out of a basement floor spread in a Fayetteville Street building in downtown Raleigh that hosts several office suites. The company behind it is North State Media, which along with another limited liability company called North State Media Investors, were formed early this year.

The attorney who filed the paperwork, Larry E. Robbins, is a former law partner of Elliot’s previous boss, current state Commerce Secretary John Skvarla. Robbins was the registered agent for North State Media and for Restoration Systems, where Skvarla used to be CEO. Robbins has been the registered agent for 16 businesses, Secretary of State records show.

Skvarla was secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where he was frustrated with the news media, primarily for its coverage of DENR’s role regulating Duke Energy in the wake of the Dan River coal ash spill.

Elliot previously worked at South University in Savannah, Progress Energy and U.S. Rep. Richard Burr. He is from Charlotte, and received a master’s degree in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

At Jones & Blount, he is working with Donna King, who worked in policy and communications in the state House of Representatives, and worked as a reporter covering Capitol Hill for several news organizations. She is a Raleigh native who earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and journalism from N.C. State University.

Dome is guessing that the idea for the name of the enterprise didn’t come from the Jones & Blount political cartoon that ran in The News & Observer a few years ago. It was about the escapades of a pair of lobbyists, a cat and a dog named Jones and Blount.