McCrory's Glaring Conflict of Interest
In his successful campaign for governor, Republican Pat McCrory spoke often of restoring public trust damaged by Democratic scandals and corruption charges.
It is a worthy goal. A good place for McCrory to start fulfilling it would be to put more space between himself and his longtime former employer, Duke Energy.
Since last summer's controversially handled merger with Progress Energy - which formerly served Moore County - Duke is now said to control about 97 percent of the production and distribution of electricity in North Carolina, including the juice now flowing from outlets hereabouts. In the process, it has now grown into America's largest electric company.
Given the nature of power grids, it is perhaps unrealistic to wish for significant levels of head-to-head competition in this field. Still, it is impossible to look at that 97 percent without having the word "monopoly" leap to mind.
Raising More Eyebrows
Duke power has its headquarters in Charlotte. McCrory worked for Duke for three decades - including the seven two-year terms he served as Charlotte's mayor. This opens him to obvious allegations of conflict of interest when it comes to any future role in state regulatory decisions involving the giant utility. McCrory didn't do much to help allay such concerns during the recent election campaign, when he refused to disclose his Duke salary.
Concerns were also expressed when McCrory, wearing his Charlotte mayor's hat, testified before a congressional committee in Washington in opposition to a set of proposed air quality regulations. It was not lost on observers at the time that the rules in question could have a significant effect on Duke's profit margins.
More recently, McCrory raised more eyebrows with a couple of his Cabinet appointments. His choices for both commerce secretary and director of the Office of State Personnel just happened to be former Duke employees.
More Complications Ahead?
More possible conflicts lie ahead. During his first gubernatorial term, McCrory will confront a need to appoint at least three members to the seven-member N.C. Utilities Commission, a body intimately involved in making decisions of the kind that could well affect Duke Power significantly. As if that weren't enough entanglement, there soon may be an opening for a new executive director of the Public Staff, responsible for representing the people of the state in utility cases.
All this clearly exposes the new governor to at least the appearance of excessive coziness with an entity from which he should surely be taking pains to keep his distance.
This is the sentiment that has now been expressed by both the clean energy group N.C. WARN and the state branch of AARP. Both have urged McCrory to leave the selection of new utilities regulators to others because of "an unprecedented conflict of interest."
McCrory spokesman Chris Walker would say only that the new governor "plans to execute the powers of his office." For his sake and that of the credibility of his brand-new administration, he might want to take a step back and rethink his position.
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