Today, the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations met to discuss the role of Governor Roy Cooper’s administration in two ongoing state issues: Hurricane Matthew recovery and the $57.8 million settlement negotiated between the administration and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The commission is composed of House and Senate members and co-chaired by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
Lack of transparency from the Cooper administration seemed to be the main grievance of the meeting. On both issues, a member of the commission gave a presentation to their fellow legislators about the unanswered questions from the Governor’s office and the implications those questions have for the state. As a result, two subcommittees were created to further investigate each of the issues.
Hurricane Matthew Recovery
House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Craven) gave a presentation about the on-going Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts of the state. He cited the progress that has been made using state funds, and the success of the state’s emergency response efforts. Bell clarified that long term recovery is the issue, and a large part of the problem is the Cooper administration’s lack of distribution of the federally-issued Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds.
Despite meetings of the House Select Committee on Disaster Relief to discuss the subject, Bell expressed that the General Assembly and the public still have unanswered questions about hurricane relief delays. Bell also pointed out that the hurricane similarly affected South Carolina and they have already been able to help people get back into permanent housing. He suggested looking to them to reform North Carolina’s system before the next disaster.
Gov. Cooper’s Chief of Staff, Kristi Jones, attended the meeting on behalf of the Governor. She gave a brief statement addressing both issues, but was not permitted to field questions from the commission. Jones pointed out that $740 million had been spent on hurricane relief, despite the delay on the CDBG-DR funds. She insisted that hurricane relief has been Cooper’s “number 1 priority since taking office.”
Atlantic Coast Pipeline Fund
Senator Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) presented information to the committee regarding Gov. Cooper’s negotiation of a $57.8 million settlement from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Newton pointed out that this type of contribution from these projects is not uncommon, but the anomaly in this situation is that Cooper would have full discretion over the use of the funds. This raises significant issues since the state’s constitution is clear that the legislative branch has authority over money obtained by the state.
Additionally, Newton highlight suspicious circumstances around the negotiation of the fund that suggest “pay-to-play” could have occurred. The administration finalized the memorandum of understanding (MOU) negotiation one day, and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued the Pipeline’s required permit the next day.
Newton stated that a subcommittee should investigate whether the Department deliberately delayed the permitting process as negotiating leverage for the Governor. He pointed out that even the suspicion of pay-to-play could be detrimental to attracting businesses to the state.
Jones, from the Governor’s office, insisted that the permitting process was completely separate from the MOU negotiation. She stated that the fund was intended to encourage economic development in the eastern part of the state. As with the hurricane topic, Jones was not permitted to field questions from the commission about the pipeline fund.
Watch full coverage of the commission meeting here.