RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - A small group of senior leaders within the North Carolina Highway Patrol are using their state-issued vehicles to commute long distances between their homes in one part of the state and their duty stations in another, a WBTV investigation has uncovered.
Our investigation began after North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood released a report last fall that found eight NCSHP leaders - one first sergeant, three lieutenants, two captains and one major - were using their state vehicles to drive from their assigned duty stations to their homes more than 20 miles from the county line in which they were stationed, which was the policy requirement at the time.
“These violations resulted in higher costs and may have jeopardized response times,” the auditor’s report said. “Supervisors failed to enforce the residency policy and obtain authorization for exceptions as required by the policy.”
The audit focused on records from a time period when Colonel William Grey, who was appointed by then-Republican Governor Pat McCrory, was commander of the patrol.
Document: Read the NCSHP audit.
In response to the audit, North Carolina Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks, who was appointed to his office by Democrat Governor Roy Cooper, pointed out that the violations took place under the previous administration.
“I do not dispute any of the findings as set out in your report. As you know, however, each of the violations detailed in your report occurred prior to my appointment at Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and prior to Colonel Glenn McNeill assuming command of the Highway Patrol,” Hooks wrote in response to the auditor’s findings.
“That being said, I want to assure you that Col. McNeill and I share the concerns expressed in your report, we agree with the recommendations contained therein and I am pleased to report that each of the employees referred to in your report are currently in compliance with policy and that most of the remedial measures recommended in the report have already been implemented by the Highway Patrol,” he continued.
But a review of records starting with the day McNeill took command of the Highway Patrol in Feb. 2017 through early September of that year found 10 senior NCSHP troopers—who each make between $80,000 and $105,000—still driving their vehicles across the state.
One NCSHP captain, who commuted between Morganton, NC and his duty station in Cary, NC, put more than 27,000 miles on his vehicle in seven months.
WBTV obtained copies of three memos that made the commutes allowable under new rules, implemented weeks after McNeill learned of the auditor’s findings, that apply only to senior NCSHP leadership. A third exemption for leadership in Troop I was issued Sept. 18, 2017.
A spokesman for Wood’s office confirmed to WBTV that staff from the auditor’s office held an exit conference with NCSHP leadership to outline the findings of their audit on Aug. 22, 2017.
Ten days later, on Sept. 1, 2017, McNeill issued two waivers - to section directors and troopers assigned to the patrol’s Internal Affairs Unit - that said those personnel did not need to abide by the residency policy that, at that time, required all NCSHP personnel to live within a 60-minute drive of their duty station.
In response to a question about the timing of when the waivers were issued, less than two weeks after the auditor’s exit conference, McNeill claimed he had actually issued the waivers verbally in March. However, when pressed to support his claim with evidence, McNeill could not provide any.
During the period of our review, fuel records provided by NCSHP in response to a public records request from WBTV show two captains and a major commuted from their homes in Burke County to their duty stations in Wake County. Another lieutenant drove from Beaufort County to his duty station in Wake County. Captain James Wingo, a supervisor in the Internal Affairs Unit, used his NCSHP vehicle to drive from his home in Asheville to his office in Raleigh, a nearly 250-mile drive.
Wingo was at his home early one recent Thursday evening when a WBTV crew visited. His state-issued Tahoe was in the driveway.
He defended his use of a NCSHP vehicle to commute across the state.
“When I step in that car and I go to work, I stop vehicles, I work wrecks and I check on stranded motorists on my way,” Wingo said. “So, I’m working across the state.”
A review of court records for 17 cases between and surrounding Buncombe County and Wake County found Wingo had not issued a traffic ticket or other moving violation since April 2015.
Still, McNeil, the current NCSHP commander, defended Wingo’s use of a state vehicle as well as his decision to exempt a small group of people from having to abide by the patrol’s residency policy.
“That policy and that exemption is only for those members, if needed,” McNeill said. “The senior leaders have duties and responsibilities that are all over the state.”
At one point, when pressed further by a reporter whether it was appropriate for senior NCSHP leaders to use their state vehicles to commute hundreds of miles across the state, McNeill tried to shove the reporter out of an elevator.
The travel waivers issued by McNeill caught the attention of North Carolina Senator Shirley Randleman (R-Wilkes). Randleman oversees the Highway Patrol as both a co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee for Justice and Public Safety and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Justice and Public Safety.
“I would find this concerning because we expect all of our state agencies to be considerate of taxpayer dollars anytime they’re using taxpayer dollars,” Randleman said after learning of the information uncovered by WBTV.
“The government has no money. It doesn’t matter if it’s the state or the federal government, we have no money; it’s taxpayer dollars and I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that those dollars are used wisely and for their intended purpose,” she said.