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Lawmakers Pledge Deep Dive Into Governor's Handling Of Hurricane Relief Efforts

a flooded road after Hurricane Matthew
Leoneda Inge

A group of state lawmakers dusted off two seemingly controversial topics during a committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, and they promised further review and scrutiny of practices by the Governor.

Republicans convened the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, also known as Gov. Ops, to offer renewed questions about how Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has handled Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts and the creation of a fund related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“Let this number sink in,” began House Representative Brenden Jones (R-Robeson), “691 days, that’s how many days we’re out now.”

Jones was referring to the hurricane that struck now close to two years ago in his district.

“I still have a town without people. I still have vacant homes. I have broken families. And I have a broken town,” he added.

Republicans took turns questioning Cooper's response to the natural disaster during a two-hour meeting that was part political theater, part ambiguity, and part pledge to dig deeper on the issues. Lawmakers raised issue with the $236.5 million in federal aid yet to go out to victims of the natural disaster.

For his part, the Governor sent staff members over, though they were not provided an opportunity to answer questions. After the hearing, he issued a statement calling it a sham and an "embarrassing use of the legislature’s time.”

Republicans assert Cooper’s administration has been inadequately slow to disperse federal funds and not forthcoming with details about his involvement in negotiating a mitigation fund. Republicans have coined it a slush fund, and actually took authority over any money earlier this year.

“The facts that I’ve laid out here today simply call for additional investigation. I’m not making any conclusions. I’m simply saying 'This committee, and the public, would be well served to look into it further'," said Senator Paul Newton (R- Cabarrus).

Darren Jackson (D- Wake) responded to Newton, noting that the issue has remained dormant for a while.

"I’m just trying to figure out what you’ve done in the last six months,” countered Jackson. “Instead of waiting ‘til we’re out of session near an election, you can understand why I would be confused why we have done nothing about this for six months."

In a statement, Cooper's Chief of Staff Kristi Jones said: “There is no secrecy in the Executive Branch. We announced the fund. It was always intended to benefit Eastern North Carolina. And it’s really unbelievable that you would really imply otherwise," said Jones, also noting that $743 million in recovery efforts has also been dispersed by the administration.

In the end, the committee voted to create two subcommittee to further examine the issues. This Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, also known as Gov. Ops, last met in November of 2015. It does not have the authority to take any formal action.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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