Cabinet shuffle: Gov. Roy Cooper’s second-term personnel moves

Gov. Roy Cooper briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper’s successful re-election campaign secured another four years in the governor’s mansion in Raleigh. Through early 2021, his cabinet appointees, the officials who run executive branch agencies, have seen turnover, and as of March 24, all but one have full-time leaders.

A trio of appointees have been with Cooper since his administration began in 2017: Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, Department of Public Safety Secretary Eric Hooks and Department of Revenue Secretary Ronald Penny. Cohen has been omnipresent with Cooper since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, often speaking two or three times per week publicly during virtual press briefings. Hooks and Penny, both African Americans, have kept lower profiles in their roles in the administration. Hooks has appeared during some of the governor’s COVID-19 briefings to discuss issues with the state’s prison population.

A fourth cabinet official, Department of Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette, has been with Cooper since 2017 in two separate positions. Boyette first served as the Department of Information Technology secretary before replacing James Trogdon at NCDOT.

On Feb. 4, 2020, Cooper announced Trogdon’s resignation in what was the first personnel move of the administration. Trogdon’s controversial term left the state’s transportation department in fiscal disarray. Two separate audits revealed mismanagement of salary increases of $39 million and exceeding its $5.94 billion 2019 fiscal year budget by $742 million, or 12.5%. The shortfall combined with COVID-19 issues resulted in $2 billion in cuts to construction projects and department-wide furloughs.

State auditor Beth Wood noted in a legislative oversight hearing there was “no evidence” that NCDOT tried to slow its spending, laying a lack of oversight and management at the feet of NCDOT CFO Evan Rodewald and chief engineer Tim Little.

“None of us are better than the secretaries they trust,” said Wood at the May 2020 hearing, adding that department secretaries are “where the buck should stop.”

Tracy Doaks was named as Boyette’s successor at NCDIT, but she then left in July 2020 to lead a non-profit focused on delivering high-speed internet and other essential technologies for communities throughout the state.

Cooper appointed Jim Weaver as the state’s NCDIT secretary and chief information officer on Feb. 17, 2021. He previously served in the same role for the state of Washington.

Machelle Sanders joined Boyette in changing agencies.

First joining the cabinet in 2017 as the Department of Administration secretary, Sanders took over on Feb. 12, 2021, as Department of Commerce secretary after Tony Copeland left at the end of January.

“Machelle has been an outstanding leader in this administration, and I am grateful that she is willing to take on this new role and continue to serve our great state,” said Cooper. “Her strong background as a business leader and her extensive knowledge of what it takes to build a globally competitive workforce will serve North Carolina well as we attract better paying jobs, help small businesses and stimulate our innovation and entrepreneurial economy.”

Mark Edwards, who served as a deputy secretary under Sanders, is the acting NCDOA secretary.

Three agencies have new leaders in Cooper’s second term.

After Michael Regan’s confirmation as President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Dionne Delli-Gatti will take over as Department of Environmental Quality secretary.

Delli-Gatti’s appointment was announced on Feb. 16, 2021.

“I’m deeply honored and humbled to lead this critical state agency. I’m ready to get to work for the people of North Carolina, digging in on the tough environmental issues our state is facing,” said Delli-Gatti after her appointment.

She most recently worked at the Environmental Defense Fund as the director of Southeast Climate and Energy, following six years at the Atlanta EPA regional office as congressional and governmental liaison.

A pair of former legislators left their roles within Cooper’s cabinet at the end of 2020: Susi Hamilton and Larry Hall, who led the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, respectively.

Cooper named D. Reid Wilson to NCDNCR effective on Jan. 1, 2021. Wilson served as a deputy under Hamilton and before that worked as the executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, the EPA and the Sierra Club.

Retired Lt. Gen. Walter Gaskin was appointed as NCDMVA secretary on Jan. 13, 2021.

Gaskin retired from active duty in 2013 following a career in the U.S. Marine Corps. In his career, Gaskin served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium, and served as the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, from June 2006 until July 2008.