- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has stopped payments that Republican predecessor Pat McCrory ordered before leaving office to compensate 10 Cabinet secretaries for unused time off, an amount that could have totaled $166,000.

In a Dec. 29 letter, McCrory directed state finance and personnel officials to allot compensation for accrued vacation and another leave category to department heads “as if they were regular state employees” covered by state government personnel rules.

Cooper’s office says that Cabinet secretaries and others in similar positions are exempt from the rules covering other employees, and don’t generally receive payments for unused leave. Cooper became governor Jan. 1.

“These irregular payments have been brought to the attention of the administration and halted pending further review,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter wrote in an email.

McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz said Friday that it was “disconcerting that the new administration would deny vacation compensation earned during a period prior” to Jan. 1. Diaz also wrote by email that McCrory followed compensation practices similar to those of former Govs. Jim Hunt and Jim Martin.

McCrory’s letter, first reported by The News & Observer of Raleigh, identified the job titles for those to receive the financial compensation upon leaving their exempt positions, “retroactive to their first day of employment in the exempt position.” The letter was addressed to State Controller Linda Combs and Paula Woodhouse, then interim state human resources director.

The amount of money that would have been paid to McCrory’s Cabinet could be less, depending on factors such as whether the Cabinet member returned to a non-exempt position, according to Cooper’s office. Cabinet members who were previously state employees subject to the state Human Resources Act could be eligible for the payments, Cooper’s office says.

McCrory’s secretary for the Department of Environmental Quality, Donald van der Vaart, was a former department manager before taking the exempt secretary’s job. He took a demotion in late December to hold another department position.

The letter covered accrued vacation and “bonus leave,” which the legislature has approved occasionally for state workers, including five days in 2014.

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