RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Administration has not complied with attempts by North State Journal to ascertain details surrounding over $2.5 million in repairs to the Executive Mansion during Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s tenure.
Earlier this year during the annual media observance of transparency in government operations known as “Sunshine Week,” North State Journal filed a records request on March 14 with the N.C. Department of Administration (DOA) for a list of repairs and the associated costs for the Executive Mansion.
Communications Director for the DOA Julia Hegele responded 149 days later on Aug. 10 with a dollar figure of $2,569,459; a $445,504 increase from the $2,123,955 total first obtained by North State Journal in December 2020. The DOA took 820 days – well over two years – to respond to the first records request.
North State Journal’s current request for a line item list of the repairs was denied by the department which initially cited “security concerns.”
“Due to security concerns, we typically do not share publicly repair records and recommendations for the Executive Residence,” Hegele said in an email response. “Providing specific line items and costs could identify potential deficiencies in the historic building as well as materials used for repairs, information that could be exploited to threaten the safety of the residence, its occupants and visitors.”
In response to that denial of records, on Aug. 17 North State Journal asked DOA for a copy of the policy, emails or memos that would back up the “security issues” claim. The agency was emailed again on Aug. 26 and again on Sept. 13 after receiving no response to the initial email sent to Hegele on Aug. 17.
On Sept. 19, Hegele responded. For the first time in seven months of email correspondence, Hegele was now stating that DOA wasn’t keeping a detailed list of repairs for the mansion.
“You request below that we share with you “line item” costs for repairs to the Executive Residence,” Hegele said in an email on Sept. 19. “While we have provided you with the total amount spent on repairs, we do not maintain a master list of line-item costs for repairs to the Executive Residence.”
North State Journal replied to Hegele on the same day questioning the contradiction of “security issues” as the reason for the denial of records and the new claim that DOA was not keeping a list of repairs. Additionally, our outlet re-stated the request for the policy or memos backing the refusal to produce the records due to “security concerns.”
As of the publication of this article, Hegele has not yet responded.
If the DOA is not keeping records of repairs for Cooper’s tenure as Hegele indicated, that would seemingly represent a departure from the record-keeping for previous occupants of the Executive Mansion.
It’s also a departure from transparency by the DOA as evidenced by 2013 reporting on repairs conducted under former Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. The repairs to the mansion at that time were widely reported on by multiple media outlets, no “security concerns” qualifiers were applied to records requests. In fact, media outlets were given detailed lists of repairs and access to a list of contractors hired and considered for the work.
There is also a question of how frequently Cooper is utilizing the mansion. Sources tell North State Journal that the governor and First Lady spend a significant amount of time away from the mansion.
A request sent to the governor’s office inquiring how many days and nights he and the First Lady have stayed at the mansion has gone unacknowledged by Cooper’s communications staff.