Broken laws or just bad decisions?
Top levels of leadership at NC State have crumbled in the last week, culminating yesterday in the resignation of the school's chancellor and the firing of former First Lady Mary Easley. But the controversy began months ago when state officials and the FBI began looking into whether former Governor Mike Easley took free plane rides and other perks in exchange for political favors. It now appears Easley also had a hand in getting his wife the lucrative job at NC State. But is this just a tangled web of bad decisions, or were laws broken? WFAE's Mark Rumsey spoke about the legal implications of the controversy with Queens University political science professor Mark Kelso: Mark Rumsey: Dr. Kelso hi and thanks for talking with us. Dr. Kelso: Hi you're welcome Mark Rumsey: Lets talk first about the ethical issues involved do you think some lines have been crossed? And if so how? Dr. Kelso: Well you know there's always this tension between the elected official and the public interest versus the private interest. And sometimes these lines are a little fuzzy I think at least in terms of the airline travel and some of the other things Governor Easley was involved in. Certainly, the perception is that he has crossed that line. Whether or not legally he's crossed that is a whole nother question. Mark Rumsey: And what would it take for those legal lines to be crossed in this kind of scenario? Dr. Kelso: Well if there were a clear evidence of some kind of exchange in which the governor was getting these favors and returning the favor with public policy decisions. Well that's the smoking gun right there. At this point, those lines are not clear but that's not to say they wont come up with something at the end. Mark Rumsey: And just the fact that in this case a sitting Governor interested in his wife having a particular job in and of itself is that a legal issue? Dr. Kelso: I don't think so and I think a lot of people are asking that question right now. Cause the governor's wife had a faculty position at another institution and she was just moving from institution to another what's the big deal? So I'd so on the surface of it you know it's not immediately clear. I think there is a probably larger issue here and that is these kinds of things illustrate some of the good old boy network that perhaps characterizes North Carolina politics in the past. The larger question is here are we going to move away from that and become a little more transparent. Mark Rumsey: So do you think in fact that most of the focus does all point back to governor Easley himself or might investigators be just as interested in some other individuals? Dr. Kelso: I think that the Governor is probably the biggest catch here if there is illegal activity that cant be ascertained its probably going to focus on members of the Governor's staff first and foremost and then open questions on whether it gets back to the governor himself. Mark Rumsey: What about any of these now former NC state officials, several of whom have stepped down, including the former board chairmen who was a political supporter of Governor Easley? Dr. Kelso: I'm not sure that they would be part of any kind of criminal investigation or would be targets of it. They would certainly be part of it. The institution is clearly embarrassed by this. Basically, it looks like you threw your academic standards out the window because the Governor's wife needed a job. It may not be as simple as all that but certainly there's a backlash going on right now and some of the firings are related to that. Whether that is going to be elected in a criminal probe remains to be seen. Mark Rumsey: Can you say on the legal front are we talking just about election laws or more then that? Dr. Kelso: There are election laws but there are also conflict of interest laws and different types of laws that guide the behavior of public officials. Mark Rumsey: But I don't hear using terms like conspiracy or things like that? Dr. Kelso: Yeah that would take it to another level. I'm not sure we have the Watergate scandal here it seems right now that this is in relative terms a rather low level possible corruption. As opposed to something that's much more deep rooted kind of scandal that permeates all kinds of different levels of government.