State Politics

For legislative hearing on private prison maintenance, four big questions

As the General Assembly prepares for a hearing Wednesday into Gov. Pat McCrory’s handling of private prison maintenance contracts, the most important document is a one-page memo written by Joe Prater, a deputy commissioner of prisons.

Prater wrote the memo shortly after the Oct. 28, 2014, meeting in Charlotte whose attendees included four prison officials, McCrory and Graeme Keith Sr., a friend and political contributor of the governor. It was organized by McCrory, was reported by The News & Observer, and has caught the attention of the FBI, which has interviewed several state officials.

The memo reports that Keith said he wanted something in return for his political contributions, that he was glad the secretary of public safety now had the power to expand private prison maintenance to more prisons, and that he wanted to expand his contracts at three prisons to all 57 state prisons. (Prison officials were opposed and wanted to take over maintenance at the three prisons.)

But the memo is silent on what happened after Keith’s presentation. Here are four key questions that the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations could be looking to answer:

▪ What did McCrory say after Keith spoke? Did he address Keith’s political contributions or Keith’s proposal to expand the contract to all 57 prisons?

The governor has said he was involved in a “side conversation” and didn’t hear Keith talk about his political contributions. But Keith spoke about more than political clout, according to the memo.

▪ What was the response of David Guice, the commissioner of prisons, to Keith’s presentation? What ethical concerns did he raise about the talk of campaign contributions?

Guice is a key player on this issue, but he has not spoken publicly. He is a former GOP legislator from Brevard and a career probation officer and supervisor. His boss, Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry, said previously that Guice raised ethical questions about McCrory’s presence and other issues.

The committee is scheduled to hear from Perry, and from Lee Roberts, the governor’s budget director, who was not at the October 2014 meeting.

After the meeting with Keith, McCrory said he asked Roberts to sort out the pros and cons of private prison maintenance. Roberts recommended extending Keith’s existing contracts, which was done over the objections of Guice and Perry.

▪ What was the conversation between McCrory and Guice? What concerns did Guice raise about the proposal for Keith to maintain all state prisons?

▪ What did Perry say at the meeting?

After the meeting, Perry, a former FBI agent, was strident in his opposition to private prison maintenance, saying in a text message to Roberts that the process would “soil the Gov”. His version of events could be pivotal on Wednesday.

Last month, Perry sent notice to Keith’s company that the maintenance contracts would expire at the close of the year.

Joseph Neff: 919-829-4516, @josephcneff

What is Gov Ops?

The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations has a wide-ranging mandate to examine and review all parts of state government. Known commonly as Gov Ops, the panel meets monthly when the General Assembly is not in session. The Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem act as co-chairs.

The degree of intensity of the committee’s oversight has varied over the years, depending on the interests of the Speaker or President Pro Tem. It has the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and to compel testimony under oath.

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