Politically charged hirings add another at $95,000 annually

Sep. 18, 2013 @ 06:47 PM

RALEIGH — An anti-abortion activist has been hired as a senior policy adviser at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the latest in a string of politically charged hiring decisions made at the embattled state agency.

Margaret "Mardy" Peal began work last month at an annual salary of $95,000.

Records show Peal recently served on the board of the anti-abortion Carolina Pregnancy Center, a group that emphasizes Christian scripture and encourages abstinence. She was also an early organizer for the conservative Eastern North Carolina Tea Party and gave $1,250 to the 2012 campaign of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Peal's hiring was reported Tuesday evening by WRAL-TV of Raleigh and The News & Observer.

The 42-year-old Peal holds a master's degree in health education from East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine, where she worked as a lecturer for three years in the 1990s before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She rejoined the workforce last year, helping develop the curriculum at a small Christian school in Winterville attended by her children.

Peal's hiring by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos comes as the agency is rewriting state rules governing access to abortion.

In a brief statement about Peal's hiring, the agency touted her college teaching experience from more than a decade ago and said she will be working with the "Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina," McCrory's initiative to allow private insurance companies to run the government's health care program for the poor.

The new position, which was not publicly advertised to other candidates, was exempted from state personnel and hiring rules. Her salary is well above the $74,719 maximum listed by the state for the highest level of DHHS planner.

In past statements, Peal has been highly critical of government spending on Medicaid, one of the programs she will now help oversee.

The N&O reported that, in 2008, Peal posted to an online forum that she hoped to move with her husband and children to Chile, where the couple had honeymooned. She sought information on how her husband, an anesthesiologist, could obtain a visa and a medical license for Chile.

In the post, she listed some of the reasons she wanted to leave the United States: "how many dollars can the treasury print before they are worthless? what will happen when the entitlements have to be scaled back?? For us we also have additional concerns relating to healthcare. One concern is the move to a socialized system in which folks who move outside the system are punished (Hillarycare) and the lack of torte (sic) reform - I could go on ad nauseum (sic)."

Peal also spoke at a 2009 tea party rally, where she was quoted by The Greenville Daily Reflector.

"The out-of-control spending we see coming out of Washington is going to have dire effects on the next generation," Grubb said, her son and daughter standing at her side. "But the government cannot continue to intrude in our lives if we don't let them. And we must fight. Not with weapons, but with knowledge."

Eastern N.C. Tea Party founder and director Karen Kozel told WRAL that Peal attended only a few early "brainstorming" meetings with the group and appeared as a visiting speaker.

"She's always been politically and socially conservative and a strong Christian," Kozel said.

Records show Peal divorced in 2011. According to her required statement of economic interest filed with the state, her only income in 2012 came from alimony and her job at Christ Covenant School.

Wos, a Greensboro doctor who was an active political fundraiser for McCrory, has come under fire for several recent personnel decisions at DHHS.

Earlier this year, Wos named as her director of North Carolina's pre-kindergarten and child-care subsidy programs a woman who for years led an organization that opposed formal pre-K programs. Her choice withdrew from the post following a public outcry.

The agency also awarded a lucrative consulting contract to a man who works for a logistics firm led by the secretary's husband. That consultant, Joe Hauck, has been paid more than $228,000 in eight months.

Dr. Rebecca King, who spent 35 years as head of the state's oral health program, was dismissed. King said she refused to provide the names of state-paid dental hygienists who took vacation time to lobby legislators against cuts to dental programs that serve low-income children.

Ricky Diaz, a 24-year-old former campaign spokesman for McCrory, is paid $85,000 a year as the agency's communications director. Wos' chief adviser for policy issues is another 24-year-old, former McCrory campaign staffer Matthew McKillip. He is paid $87,500.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that the agency had hired a former Republican campaign staffer and lobbyist as its new director of brands and marketing. Aaron Mullins will be paid $68,000 a year.