Lisa Sorg of N.C. Policy Watch has a lengthy story today about Lee County’s very own Jim Womack, who as chairman of the North Carolina Oil & Gas Commission is overseeing efforts to lift a fracking moratorium in his home county.
Sorg’s story, in a nutshell, is that four of five petitioners asking the Commission to hold quasi-judicial hearings in an effort to overturn Lee County’s temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas were not only people with whom Womack has a personal and/or professional relationship, they also submitted at the same time virtually identical letters to the commission, “as if prepared by the same person.”
The Policy Watch story seems to suggest that it could constitute a conflict of interest if Womack was involved in preparing the letters (the story says he refused to answer questions to that effect), or even encouraging the petitioners to write them:
As chairman of the Oil and Gas Commission, Womack would have the authority to deem the complainants’ petitions complete, and thus be the gatekeeper for the hearings of his associates to proceed.
“I would reverse the logic for you to consider,” he wrote to Policy Watch in an email. “How could I be fair and impartial given my close relationships with several of my friends who strongly oppose oil and gas development, some of whom no doubt will present arguments against drilling at any future hearings? I imagine we all have friends that favor the one position or the other.”
However, drilling opponents are not asking for a quasi-judicial hearing before the commission, of which Womack has oversight and authority. And if Womack did orchestrate the letter-writing campaign, it’s hard to believe he would have done the same for many fracking opponents, who have often incurred his wrath. For example, in an email to an E&E News reporter last year, Womack wrote, “there is very little these groups will not do to wreck our work and prevent the state from developing its natural resources,”
Although the story does not look good for Womack or the Oil & Gas Commission in general, its timing is interesting in that Womack probably felt pretty good about himself as he sipped his coffee this morning.
Womack is also the chairman of Lee County’s Republican Party and in that capacity had a letter to the editor (subscription required) appear in Wednesday’s Sanford Herald. The letter, a mishmash of strawman and ad hominem fallacies, called into question the professionalism of a Herald reporter over a detailed story about city and county finances (subscription required) and tried to debunk the idea that county budget maneuvers Womack oversaw as a sitting commissioner in 2013 could possibly have anything to do with the state of public finances today. It’s classic Womack:
A number of facts were omitted in Mr. Zachary Horner’s heavily slanted article; facts he would easily have discovered with the courtesy of a call or email to any of the conservative commissioners he blamed in the article for the city’s proposed tax increase. A competent editor or publisher would have insisted Horner get comments from those he accused and balance his article with the rest of the story. That kind of professionalism was not evident in the article.
You should read Womack’s entire letter (if you’re not a subscriber, Womack helpfully shared his unedited version, which is even more inflammatory, on Facebook) and then Sorg’s story about his performance as chairman of the Oil & Gas Commission. It’ll make your brain hurt, but it’ll also remind you that this guy is still trying to pull strings in Sanford and Lee County, and that you can vote later this year against giving him any additional influence into public affairs.