The patronage politics of roads, money, power, and ethics in North Carolina is a strange creature. Individual NCDOT board commissioners may not receive direct compensation (nor anyone related to them to the first degree) for a road building project in their districts; yet that is not the whole story.
Every four years the DOT commissioners are re-appointed (or not) to their districts by the governor. Often, these re-appointed commissioners have given thousands of dollars to gubernatorial candidates’ campaigns. These DOT commissioners have given money, not necessarily out of their own pockets but through many $100, $200, and $300 contributions that the individual commissioner receives from other constituents (private citizens, paving companies, architectural firms, etc.). This is called “bundling.”
Many of these smaller (some not so small) contributors do have a stake in the commissioner’s re-appointment because of either jobs they hold with the DOT or companies who are regular contractors with the DOT. They consequently are dependent upon the commissioner’s being able to “fast track” certain projects and to informally steer certain projects to these contributors. Of course the governor has a hand in all this—larger now since Governor Perdue centralized more DOT/roads decision-making power in Raleigh back in 2009. Power and perquisites always flow from the governor’s mansion to campaign contributors— always.
Do the SCC campuses in Jackson and Macon counties need these multi-million dollar “driveways,” as Jackson County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam calls them, complete with expensive overpasses that only allow for limited on/off access to major roads? No. More economical road designs are possible.
It is not “for the children”—it never has been and never will be. Yet because of the political patronage (jobs, money and power) at stake these projects will probably get built. Under the state’s ethics statutes, is it legal? Yes. Is it truly ethical? No. But who cares? It is only yours and my money. And money is always the bottom line.
Carl Iobst — Cullowhee, N.C.