State Auditor: Easley paid too much

August 27, 2009 2:46:30 PM PDT
North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood issued a preliminary report Thursday that says former first lady Mary Easley was paid too much for her position at NC State University.Click here to read the report (.pdf)

Wood, a Democrat, said she was issuing the report in response to criticism in the media that her office did not investigate Easley's salary because of political pressure.

"We are taking this extraordinary action to protect the integrity of the Office of the State Auditor and to provide information to interested parties," wrote Wood in the report.

A federal grand jury is looking into the hiring of Mary Easley to the lucrative position at NC State while her husband was still Governor. Easley was hired in 2005 to run a speakers series. She later got more duties and a larger salary - $170,000 per year.

NC State University Chancellor Jim Oblinger and former Provost Larry Nielsen both resigned earlier this year over the hiring, and both were subpoenaed to testify.

The auditor's report issued Thursday looks at Easley's compensation for running the speakers series and for her duties as a school instructor. NC State has argued that part of the reason Easley was paid so much was because of her high profile as first lady, she was able to attract higher caliber speakers.

"Ms. Easley creates additional value for the Millennium Seminars in her ability to attract outstanding speakers and external funding for support. The Millennium Seminars have created great value for NC State and the local community, and that value would not continue if managed by a volunteer group of faculty and students. We believe our valuation to be appropriate," wrote NC State in its response to the auditor's findings.

While the report says auditors couldn't determine a dollar value for Easley's high profile, it goes on to say Easley was paid too much for being an instructor.

"The preliminary finding concluded that Ms. Easley was paid too much for her instructional duties. The conclusion was based on a comparison of compensation paid to Ms. Easley with compensation paid to a part-time instructor," reads the report.

NC State responded that it's common to pay part time instructors who have other school duties more.

Instead of $170,000, the auditor's report says she should have been paid $79,000 - a $91,000 difference.

The NC State probe is part of a larger investigation of the Easley family. Federal investigators are looking at Mike Easley's travel records, cars the family got from auto dealers, and a land deal.

The former Governor has maintained he has done nothing wrong, and no charges have been filed.

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