The new Democrat choice for House Speaker, Joe Hackney, just inherited his first scandal.
Two years ago Ms. Ann Lassiter, who headed the House page program, landed in hot water. First, in a lapse of judgment she has apologized for, she had the page program pay her son rent (so pages could live in his house). Second, her son had a record of convictions for drug abuse.
Speaker Jim Black removed Ms. Lassiter, then deftly slipped her into a new job – which hadn’t existed before – as House Historian with a salary of $50,000. Since Ms. Lassiter is not a historian that led to speculation the job was a political sinecure. Adding to the appearance that Ms. Lassiter’s role as House historian lacked credibility, her history – including a separate study of House Speakers since 1963 – was not completed. Worse, when the News and Observer asked for copies of the research – presumably to see how much work was done – Black refused to release the records. (That led one wag to comment that Black has changed his mind and decided he’d rather not have a history of his last two years as Speaker.) Black’s lawyer, one of the House legal counsels, backed him up by citing what appears to be a loophole in the public records law – but with a less than ringing affirmation, saying, “I didn’t read the history. I didn’t want to. I don’t even want to know what happened last year.”
Now, Black says he is going to turn the research “over to the new Speaker” to let him decide what to do with it. So the mini-scandal has ended up in Joe Hackney’s lap. The question the newspapers have raised is simple: What did the public get for almost two years of research at $50,000 a year? Joe Hackney can ‘clear the air,’ and send a clear signal he is not going to continue business as usual in the State House, by reversing Black’s decision.
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