Some political jobs shouldn’t be exempt

Gale Wilkins
Gale Wilkins

The Feb. 24 news article “McCrory protected 908 jobs from firing” mentioned me as a political appointee who is not serving in the new administration. I am the former executive director of the N.C. Council for Women. I applied and was hired in July 2013 to serve with other peer advocacy organizations in the Department of Administration. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Services from William Peace University, a Graduate Certificate as a Family Life Coach from N.C. State; and in 2016, I received a Masters of Arts, Liberal Studies, Women in Leadership, from N.C. State.

I grew up in rural Sampson County with siblings in a household engulfed in domestic violence, alcoholism and poverty. I am intimately familiar with the sights and sounds of a highly dysfunctional home, not vastly different than many other homes across North Carolina. I accepted the position as executive director because I am passionate concerning the cause. Working with women and families has been my life’s calling for over 20 years, the majority of those years as a volunteer.

When hired, I was challenged to create a new vision and expand the mission of the council. The council is the state’s leading voice on critical issues impacting the lives of women and youth, including domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. This agency receives $12 million annually in funding from the North Carolina legislature to administer programs to serve domestic violence and sexual assault shelter services, a toll-free hotline, counseling and other services. We provide services to over 200 shelters in all 100 counties in North Carolina.

Let’s be clear about the conditions of my employment. I was informed and accepted the notion that my position was “exempt.” In other words, I was serving at the pleasure of the governor; therefore, I was not surprised when the administration changed, and I was not extended the offer to continue. That is the accepted practice that every new governor and administration exercises. Moreover, I did not expect an offer to continue. One could argue that this practice should not extend to certain positions such as mine, for example.

After serving for nearly four years, I recognize the value of having continuity of leadership, as it takes time and effort to create new paradigms, change traditions and to monitor progress. This position requires intentionality and dedication because the concerns of the safety for women and families are at stake. This is not a political concern; it’s a human concern. Yes, I can support the argument for a better process as there are cases when political patronage tends to be less effective. In this case, the executive director’s position being exempt is problematic.

The council just recently celebrated 50 years of service, and the General Assembly recently transferred the Youth Involvement Office to the Council for Women in July 2016. The staff grew from 12 to 20 in three short years to meet the continuing needs for women across North Carolina. The council sought out and was awarded competitive federal grants. This resulted in $2.4 million in awards for Family Violence Prevention Service Act in 2014, a $220,000 award for human trafficking training in 2015, and $3.2 million in 2016 for human trafficking.

As the former executive director I served on the Governor’s Crime Commission victim services committee scoring grants for nonprofits so we could provide care for vulnerable families. We created an internship program for young women partnering with local colleges and universities for mentorship opportunities as they prepared for graduation. We created a Women and Girls Initiative inviting middle, high school and college freshmen to the Governor’s Mansion for a day of coaching and mentoring on the subjects of confidence and courage from women leaders.

In North Carolina during 2015-2016 there were 101,940 crisis calls and 48,601 clients assisted by agencies across the state. For the last four years, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve the women of North Carolina.

Gale McKoy Wilkins, MA, is a former Executive Director of the North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement.