- Associated Press - Friday, December 23, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A decision by North Carolina’s new private economic development arm has made it harder for Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper to install his choices to oversee the organization tasked to help lure new business to the state.

The governing body of the independent nonprofit corporation under contract with the state changed its bylaws this month on how board members can be removed.

Nine of the board’s 17 members of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina are chosen by the governor, with the others appointed by legislative leaders. Before the board’s vote, the leader who made an appointment could remove that board member for any reason. Media outlets report now any member can be removed by Cooper but only for “misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance.”

Without the ability to remove at will outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s appointees, Cooper likely won’t be able to replace them until they resign or their terms expire, perhaps making it more difficult to place his imprint on the partnership. A majority of the terms of McCrory’s appointees don’t expire until at least 2018.

The Dec. 16 action “harmonizes” the board’s rules with other state boards and commissions, said Bob Sar, a board lawyer. The guarantee of stability on the board is good for the partnership’s main goals of bringing new businesses and tourists to North Carolina, partnership CEO Christopher Chung said.

“You want some continuity,” Chung said.

The board action occurred as the GOP-led General Assembly approved unrelated legislation that scaled back Cooper’s gubernatorial powers before taking office Jan. 1.

Cooper spokeswoman Megan Jacobs said attorneys for his transition team are looking at the partnership board changes.

The partnership’s activities historically have been performed by the state Department of Commerce, but McCrory and the legislature decided in 2013 to assemble a framework for a public-private partnership in which a nonprofit corporation would become the state’s lead business recruiter. The Commerce Department still carries out incentive grants and other duties.

Some of McCrory’s current board appointees include John Lassiter, a longtime McCrory friend and political ally, and Mark Bellissimo, a McCrory donor and managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partnership.

Cooper still can exert influence over the board. Right now, the partnership exists as long as its current five-year contract remains in place with the Department of Commerce, soon to be under Cooper. The sitting governor has the option to cancel the contract “with or without cause at any time and in its sole discretion.” Cooper said during the gubernatorial campaign he wasn’t inclined to get rid of the partnership entirely.


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