Thursday, 10 January 2019 14:06

Ethics complaint against house speaker dismissed

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House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland NCGA

RALEIGH — An ethics complaint cloud hanging over House Speaker Tim Moore for nearly a year has been lifted.

Kim Strach, executive director of the now defunct Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, filed notice of the dismissal Dec. 28. Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, discussed the action with reporters Wednesday, Jan. 9, after being elected to a third term as House Speaker, the longest tenure of any Republican in that position.

When news of the complaint surfaced in March 2018, Moore blamed it on a partisan election-year attack. 

Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, a Washington, D.C.-based liberal watchdog organization, filed the complaint March 9, 2018. He alleged Moore used his public office to skirt state Department of Environmental Quality regulations governing underground storage tanks in a case stretching back to 2014.

Moore was part-owner of Southeast Land Holdings. The company bought the former Townsend Poultry Plant in Siler City for $85,000, and sold it for $550,000.

Stevens claimed turning that profit was made possible by Moore using the power of his office to get DEQ to delay enforcement actions requiring cleanup of two underground petroleum storage tanks on the property. Stevens further alleged Moore influenced state and local officials to provide a variety of grants and tax incentives to make the property more desirable to a buyer.

According to the dismissal notice, the complaints about grant money and tax incentives were tossed out May 14 after an initial ethics commission inquiry panel review. The panel found no evidence to support the contention Moore used legislative action to obtain financial benefits for himself or Southeast.

The probe into whether Moore used official action to obtain a beneficial action continued.

“Here, the most likely path to a finding of a violation … would have been that Moore inappropriately made a ‘request for a ruling or other determination’ surrounding the Department’s delay of enforcement action regarding the underground storage tanks,” the dismissal notice said.

After reviewing investigators’ interviews with DEQ staff involved with the underground storage tank removal, and other information investigators gathered, the inquiry panel concluded Moore’s legislative position played no role in Southeast getting extensions for cleanup due.

Ethics Commission staff determined much of the confusion in the case resulted from Moore failing to file timely notifications that action already had been taken to correct violations.

That included documentation an environmental consulting firm already had removed oil from the underground tanks, and removed the tanks from the property to meet compliance demands. Payment of annual fees and late payment of penalties also had been completed in compliance with DEQ orders.

“The matter is closed,” Moore said. “The state board of ethics has dismissed the complaint and found that I didn’t do anything wrong.”

He had little to say about a Raleigh News & Observer story alleging Mitch Gillespie, a member of Moore’s legislative staff in 2016, had contacted state environmental inspectors about issues involving Moore’s private business.

“I can’t tell you about whether a call was made or not,” Moore said. “I didn’t know anything about it until I read the article.”