One of the biggest, unanswered questions in the McCrory/prison contractor story

By: - November 2, 2015 6:32 am

The biggest North Carolina political development over the weekend was the Saturday story in Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer about Governor McCrory’s involvement in helping a longtime friend and political donor obtain a state contract to provide prison maintenance services over the objections of top prison officials. In case you somehow missed it, here was the lead:

“Last fall, Gov. Pat McCrory personally intervened on behalf of a friend and major political donor who wanted to renew $3 million in private prison contracts over the objections of McCrory’s top prison officials, records and interviews show.

Graeme Keith Sr., a Charlotte developer and retired banker once known as “Billy Graham’s banker,” has aggressively pursued private maintenance contracts in state prisons since 1999. Keith’s contracts at two prisons were set to expire Dec. 31, 2014; a third would have ended four months later.

The governor convened an October 2014 meeting in Charlotte, where, according to a Department of Public Safety memo, Keith told prison officials and McCrory that ‘he had been working on this project ‘private prison maintenance’ for over ten (10) years and during that time had given a lot of money to candidates running for public office and it was now time for him to get something in return.’”

As the N&O also reported yesterday, the Governor’s office is disputing the story and claiming that it wrongfully gives the impression that something improper or illegal transpired. Needless to say, we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the days ahead, especially with the FBI looking into the matter. The N&O is standing by the story.

Here’s one thing, however, that really stood out in the original story: the fact that state Commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice David Guice was not interviewed. This is from the original story:

“[Secretary of Public Safety Frank] Perry said Guice raised ethical concerns, including the governor’s presence and the necessity of bidding any contract that would expand maintenance to more prisons. McCrory soon ended the meeting.

The department would not allow The N&O to interview Guice.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Say what? In such a huge and troubling story, the fact that one of the key figures — himself a veteran public official and former state legislator — was apparently prevented by his superiors from talking to the reporters digging into the matter would sure seem to raise a bit of a red flag. It’s hard to imagine that Guice will be able to remain silent for very long. Stay tuned.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.