By: - August 5, 2016 12:16 pm

Follies-coalashMcCrory’s coal ash water quality scandal continues to grow

The scandal in the McCrory Administration involving the safety of drinking water near Duke Energy coal ash ponds gets more troubling every day.

McCrory staffers and supporters are now openly attacking state toxicologist Ken Rudo who said in a deposition in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that officials with the administration told people living near the coal ash ponds that their well water was safe even though he determined it was not.

Rudo also testified that he was called to a meeting at the governor’s office with Communications Director Josh Ellis and other staffers to talk about Rudo’s insistence on warning people about carcinogens in their drinking water—which of course is Rudo’s job.

Rudo said McCrory called in to the meeting and that’s what set off all the denials and attacks from McCrory’s office and a hastily called late night press conference at which Chief of Staff Thomas Stith said Rudo lied under oath.

It appeared that Stith and by extension McCrory were far more upset that Rudo claimed McCrory called in to the meeting in the governor’s office than they were about Rudo’s most serious statement, that administration officials prevented him from warning residents about their contaminated drinking water.

Not only did Stith call Rudo a liar, McCrory’s campaign attacked him repeatedly on social media the day after news reports about his deposition.  Then the North State Journal, a publication run by ex-McCrory staffers including several who worked at the Department of Environmental Quality, published a story questioning Rudo’s credibility.

The prompted McCrory staffers to allege that Rudo has “history of lying” though there was very little in the story to support that slanderous claim.

Rudo is a 30-year state scientist and a registered Republican who voted for McCrory in 2012. He has no motivation to lie about his scientific findings or the meeting he said took place in McCrory’s office about the warnings to residents about their water. And remember he made his comments under oath.

Interestingly, McCrory himself has not weighed in on the controversy. The people of North Carolina deserve to know why his political appointees overruled the findings about the safety of a community’s water supply from a well-respected scientist.

They also deserve to know if McCrory called into the meeting where for some reason his communications director was questioning Rudo about his insistence to warn people about their contaminated water.

Either McCrory called in or he didn’t and presumably state phone records would answer that definitively. Or maybe McCrory and his communications director would be willing to testify about it under oath.

The other piece of the story is the obviously cozy relationship between the McCrory Administration and Duke Energy, where McCrory worked for 28 years.

The Winston-Salem Journal and other media outlets have reported on meetings about water quality between Duke executives and top administration officials, including DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart, where Duke officials complained about the findings in the analysis of the water.

The public deserves to know the details of those meetings between McCrory’s former employer and his political appointees.

The administration’s credibility is suffering mightily. Transparency is the only way to repair it. Bashing a scientist for doing his job is not the answer and only makes people wonder what McCrory is hiding and how they can trust the state to tell them the truth about their water.

New Trump staffer was part of McCrory’s salary scandal at HHS

Speaking of controversies involving the McCrory Administration, most media outlets missed part of the story this week when the Donald Trump campaign announced that Jason Simmons would be taking over its efforts in North Carolina.

Simmons was described in news stories as a veteran of the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign and an employee of the McCrory Administration since 2013.  Both are true but Simmons just wasn’t any hire by McCrory, he was part of the group of former campaign workers hired at HHS who received huge raises a few months into McCrory’s term which prompted a firestorm of criticism.

WRAL-TV reported at the time that Simmons was hired as a policy planner at HHS and received a $22,500 raise a few months later even though he had no background or experience in health policy.

One of the other employees who received a big raise was Ricky Diaz, who is now the spokesperson for McCrory’s campaign.

The best news coverage money can buy

And finally, McCrory’s office this week touted a feature in Newsweek magazine extolling the success of state’s economy as further evidence of his wise leadership.

The news release from McCrory’s office links to the story, titled “North Carolina: Transformation Through Innovation,” on a website operated by the company Elite Reports.

The company describes itself as a firm that is a “vital communications avenue for governments and companies who want to promote their strengths and corporate image worldwide in order to attract inward investment.”

In other words, the story was written by a firm presumably paid to promote North Carolina. The company’s website includes stories it produced about other countries and states, including Georgia that is described as, you guessed it, one of the most innovative states for business in the U.S.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066