Fitzsimon File

The Follies (that Merritt more discussion)

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Another DHHS story that Merritt’s more scrutiny

Former State Auditor and prominent Republican Les Merritt announced he was stepping down from the State Ethics Commission this week after a reporter with WRAL-TV asked if Merritt had a conflict of interest on the board since he is also a contractor with the troubled Department of Health and Human Services.

Merritt was appointed to the commission effective January 1. He signed a $312,000 one-year personal services contract with HHS that started May 13. That’s right, $312,000.

Merritt pointed out to WRAL that the contract was actually with his accounting firm, not him personally—like that makes a difference—but he did step down after the reporter asked about a possible conflict.

Here’s another question. Why in the world is DHHS paying Les Merritt $312,000 a year?

Sure it must take a lot of time drawing up those big severance packages for one-month employees, calculating the raises for 24-year-old former McCrory campaign workers, and keeping up with other personal services contracts like the one for a colleague of Secretary Aldona Wos’ husband, but still, $312,000?

And there is Merritt’s title. He is listed on memos from DHHS as the Chief Financial Officer for the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.

Isn’t the CFO usually a full-time employee, not a contract worker? And if DHHS is only contracting with Merritt’s company, who else are Merritt and his company also working for? Any possible conflicts there?

And $312,000?

Secretary Aldona Wos needs to step out from behind her bodyguards and answer some questions about this arrangement with Mr. Merritt.

The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service

Surely Merritt will understand all the questions.

After he was defeated for his bid for re-election as State Auditor by Beth Wood in 2008, Merritt and former FBI agent Frank Perry started a nonprofit group called “The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service.”

The Independent Weekly reported that the group received at least $300,000 from the Pope Foundation run by current State Budget Director and North Carolina’s version of a Koch brother Art Pope.

The Foundation for Ethics’ website is no longer active but a capture of the site describes its mission this way.

The Foundation will accomplish its mission by receiving and independently investigating allegations of corruption in government, providing reports of corruption to investigative journalists, and pro-actively educating government leaders and the general public on the true nature of ethics in government as well as the causes and remedies of public corruption.

Interesting that part of mission was providing information about possible ethical conflicts to journalists, but when it came to a possible problem with Merritt’s service on the State Ethics Commission, the media had to come to him.

Frank Perry meanwhile recently was named Secretary of the Department of Public Safety by Governor Pat McCrory, replacing Kiernan Shanahan who resigned after just six months on the job.

Merritt and WakeMed

And finally, Merritt is also a member of the board of directors of WakeMed Health & Hospitals that fired longtime CEO Bill Atkinson this week.

Atkinson publicly criticized DHHS a couple of weeks ago, saying that the problems at the department were hurting health care providers and pointing out that DHHS owed WakeMed $1.5 million for unpaid medical claims since June.

Neither the members of the WakeMed board nor Atkinson are saying much about his dismissal, but it’s a safe bet that his comments about DHHS did not help.

Somebody needs to ask the $312,000 DHHS contractor/CFO what really happened.

Or maybe just ask his company.