Gov's Office Changes DOT Letter To Push For Gaston
6:05 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Gov's Office Changes DOT Letter To Push For Gaston Parkway Money

North Carolina lawmakers are looking into an instance where the Governor's Office did some creative editing or forgery depending on your view. The governor's deputy chief changed the wording and meaning of a letter from a state Department of Transportation official. The matter involves funding for two major road projects, one of which is the Garden Parkway toll road through Gaston County. The Raleigh News and Observer broke the story Tuesday.

At issue is $63 million in start-up money for the Garden Parkway and a toll bridge across Currituck Sound on the Outer Banks. House lawmakers included the money in their budget for this year, but the Senate did not.

State Representative Bill Current of Gaston County notified one of Perdue's aides that this would probably kill the Garden Parkway. Current has been an investor in land along the parkway. He's since sold his share to his son.

NC DOT Chief Operating Officer Jim Trogdon responded to Current's concerns in a letter last week. Trogdon said the agency is committed to the project, but money isn't needed this year because lawsuits are expected to delay it.

A draft of the letter went to Governor Perdue's office. That's where her deputy chief of staff Kevin McLaughlin stepped in, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. He changed the letter, adding a sentence that money is needed this budget cycle. The letter was then sent back to the DOT, but Trogdon was out of town. So another DOT official approved the letter and inserted Trogdon's electronic signature. The letter was then sent to lawmakers.

When Trogdon got word of the new version of the letter, he emailed that it had a "major problem" because the new wording isn't true. He then retracted the letter. By that time, the letter had already been used in floor debate to put the toll road money back in the budget. That amendment failed.

The events raise troubling questions for Bill Toole. He's a Belmont city councilman who opposes the Garden Parkway. The toll road would connect I-485 to I-85 just west of Gastonia.

"Jim Trogdon is a very brave man for having stood up to his boss, saying those letters were totally inaccurate," says Toole.

He blames Current for pushing the issue.

"I was really dismayed by Representative Current who clearly went out of his way to urge Governor Perdue to put into those letters things that simply weren't true."

Current's office said he wasn't available for comment because he's dealing with a death in the family. His share of property he sold to his son is along four proposed parkway exits. Congressional candidate Robert Pittenger is a partner.

Trogdon said in a statement the Governor's staff and the DOT official who approved it believed the changes were accurate and that he would've okayed it.

Governor Perdue's Press Secretary Chris Mackey acknowledged in a written statement that the Governor's staff had suggested edits, but did not elaborate on those edits. The Governor's Office declined an interview request.

A Senate committee is investigating the matter. Trogdon will appear before the rules committee tomorrow. Representatives of Perdue's office are scheduled to appear Thursday.

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