RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory’s top deputies on government spending and tax collections are leaving their posts. Budget Director Lee Roberts is returning to the private sector and Revenue Secretary Lyons Gray is moving to the state Utilities Commission.
Gray’s departure wasn’t surprising, since McCrory announced last April the former state legislator was his next choice to join the commission.
Roberts’ departure hadn’t been telegraphed. The banker only became budget director in September 2014. Roberts will now become the managing director of Sharpvue Capital, a new investment advisory firm in Raleigh. McCrory said Roberts couldn’t turn down the opportunity for a dream job.
“It was a very difficult decision for me,” Roberts said at the Executive Mansion announcement. “I’ve had a wonderful experience.”
Succeeding Roberts in early February will be Drew Heath, chairman of the state Industrial Commission, a quasi-judicial agency with its primary responsibility to determine workers’ compensation for injured employees.
Roberts had replaced Art Pope, a businessman, donor to conservative causes and candidates and former lawmaker who helped McCrory wade into state government when he took office in early 2013.
Roberts essentially led the governor’s effort to get what became a $2 billion bond referendum on the March 15 ballot. He helped begin McCrory’s initiative to revitalize or lease out government properties and helped negotiate the final deal to sell the old Dorothea Dix mental hospital property to Raleigh. He had an easier time than recent predecessors at balancing the state budget because of an improving economy and $445 million revenue surplus last year.
Looking to Pope in the audience Thursday, McCrory said Roberts “more than filled your shoes.”
“I’ve never seen a person accomplish so much in an amount of time that had such an impact on the state of North Carolina,” McCrory added.
Roberts, son of political commentator Cokie Roberts and grandson of two former U.S. House members, got media attention this past fall when McCrory asked him to evaluate whether it made financial sense for private contractors to perform prison maintenance. Roberts’ office said it did result in cost savings. McCrory still took heat for the administration’s decision to extend by one year existing maintenance contracts held by a company led by a McCrory friend and campaign donor. Roberts told reporters Thursday the situation had no role in his departure.
Gray, from Winston-Salem, joined McCrory when he took office but took medical leave in late 2013 for some time to address a heart condition. The new secretary will be current revenue department Chief Operating Officer Jeff Epstein, who was acting secretary when Gray was on medical leave.
Gray, chief financial officer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during President George W. Bush’s administration, was praised by McCrory for leading efforts to implement the 2013 tax overhaul law, reduce tax fraud and expand electronic filing.
“These improvements have gone a long way to ensuring accountability and better service to the people,” the governor said.
Gray will fill the seat on the Utilities Commission by Susan Rabon, whose term was to expire last June 30.
Although McCrory nominated Gray last spring, the legislature didn’t confirm him before it adjourned. Rabon stayed on the job and resigned last week, opening the door for McCrory to appoint Gray. Now the legislature will consider his confirmation when it reconvenes this spring. The commission regulates rates and services delivered by electricity, water and telecommunications.