The walls are closing in on Beth Wood. Will she resign? | Eastern North Carolina Now

The walls are closing in on Beth Wood. Will she resign?

Wood's reputation and widespread support have insulated her so far — but politics could soon intervene

By:  Andrew Dunn

The more time that goes by, the more troubling the allegations against State Auditor Beth Wood become.

Last week, we wrote that Wood had been cited for misdemeanor hit and run after she allegedly managed to get two of her car's wheels completely on top of a vehicle parked on the street in downtown Raleigh. Police say she left the state-owned car, engine running, and disappeared.

The incident happened in December but didn’t come to light until a month later. After news outlets began to report on the incident, Wood put out a statement saying the incident occurred after a holiday party and called the situation a “mistake in judgment.” She committed to continuing her work as auditor.

Now video has emerged on Instagram (warning: foul language) showing someone who appears to be Wood being ushered inside a law office, with a witness saying he heard people yelling, "Get her out of here!"

While there's obviously no proof of this, the evidence certainly points to Wood leaving the scene of the accident to avoid prosecution for a more serious charge — like driving under the influence. While that may be a smart thing to do legally, it's a huge moral lapse.

There’s little chance Wood's career survives this. The only question is whether she resigns quickly, or attempts to ride out the rest of her term.

A reputation of independence and competence

So far, Wood has been insulated from political pressure to resign by virtue of her long-standing reputation of independence and competence. That’s a valuable asset in a position responsible for identifying waste, fraud and abuse across all levels of government in North Carolina.

Wood, a 68-year-old Democrat, was first elected state auditor in 2008 — defeating one-term Republican incumbent Les Merritt — after more than a decade of service in the Office of the State Auditor and the Office of the State Treasurer. Wood became the first woman to hold the post and subsequently won re-election to three more terms.

Wood had a compelling personal story to accompany her professional achievements. The Craven County farm girl initially graduated from community college and worked as a dental hygienist before deciding to earn a four-year degree and enter the financial world. She earned her CPA in 1987.

As state auditor, Wood regularly tangled with politicians on both sides of the aisle in a vigorous quest for good government.

During the McCrory administration, Wood’s office uncovered a broken Medicaid system costing the state millions of dollars, touching off a legislative push to overhaul the system. In 2020, she revealed that Cooper’s Department of Transportation was significantly over budget due to widespread financial mismanagement. At nearly the same time, she found that a Rocky Mount city council member had tens of thousands of dollars of unpaid utility bills wiped from his record — earning Wood charges of racism from the state NAACP. Wood still did not back down.

“She's the best state auditor we've ever had,” former labor commissioner Cherie Berry, a Republican, told WRAL. “It didn't matter if she was auditing a Democrat department head or Republican. Everybody was treated the same.”

All this has earned her the benefit of the doubt. But heading into an election year, things can quickly change.

Politics may help her stay in her job, too

The N.C. Republican Party quickly put out a statement calling for her to resign, but few others have done the same.

State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore (both Republicans) have said they are not currently asking her to resign, while Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein (both Democrats) have largely avoided those questions.

As troubling as the situation is, there isn’t likely to be much pressure to resign — and it’s all about politics.

If Wood were to resign, Gov. Roy Cooper would get to appoint a successor to fill the position until the next election (in 2024). The same thing would happen if the General Assembly were to conduct an impeachment. That process would begin in the state House, with the Senate serving as the court passing final judgment.

Either way, that would put a new state auditor in the position with plenty of time to mount a re-election campaign. All things being equal, nobody wants to run against an incumbent. This is particularly true in a relatively low-information race like that for the office of state auditor.

Republicans eyeing the 2024 race for state auditor would much rather run for an open seat. There’s little incentive for them to call for Wood to resign, giving her replacement a leg up next year.

If you’re a Democrat, you don’t want a new state auditor either — unless you’re the lucky one that Cooper taps. Whoever got the appointment would almost certainly win the Democrat nomination in 2024.

Cooper may want to stay out of it, and I wouldn’t blame him. It’s easier to just let Wood finish her term and avoid playing favorites or risk alienating a key constituency.

What comes next?

I understand why Wood wants to stay in office. Her term as state auditor has been remarkable, and she’s created out a powerful legacy of service to the state. Once you resign in disgrace, however, all of that gets wiped away. If she can make it through the next 18 months, she stands a much better chance of being remembered favorably in the annals of North Carolina history.

Can she do it? Sure. There’s plenty of historical precedent for North Carolina elected officials riding out criminal cases.

  • Former Lt. Gov. Jimmy Greene was indicted on federal bribery charges in 1983 while in office. He vigorously denied wrongdoing, went to trial and was acquitted. The next year, he ran for governor but lost the Democratic primary. A decade later, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges related to his tobacco business.

  • Former state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R- Cabarrus) was indicted on federal charges of mail fraud and money laundering while in office for allegedly soliciting campaign donations and then using them to pay personal expenses. He did not resign, but withdrew his name in the next election. He ultimately pleaded guilty.

But Wood’s case is significantly different, in several ways.

On the negative side, Wood is the highest-profile elected official to come under investigation since Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps. Phipps, daughter of former N.C. Gov. Bob Scott, resigned under pressure after several of her campaign aides were indicted on fraud charges related to shady dealings around the State Fair. Phipps ended up going to prison, where she made served her sentence alongside Martha Stewart.

However, it certainly works in Wood’s favor that the charges aren’t related to abuse of her office or campaign. At least not directly.

Under state law, the state auditor is tasked with “impartial, independent” investigations of state and local governments. She has unlimited access to the books, files, facilities and employees of all agencies of the state. She can issue subpoenas and take testimony under oath, and failure to comply with her investigations can lead to prison time.

In her job, Wood must tough questions, demand full transparency and hold our state government accountable. In this case, Wood has avoided tough questions, been woefully untransparent and tried to skirt accountability.

Had Wood stayed by the vehicle, taken whatever charges that came, and been honest, I would defend her ability to remain in office.

But North Carolinians should hold our state auditor to the same standard that she holds the rest of state government. Beth Wood must resign.

Wood has her next court appearance on March 23. My guess is she’ll still be the state auditor at that point. But she shouldn’t be.

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( January 31st, 2023 @ 2:32 pm )
Sorry but forgot to add - the man / passenger who helped Beth Wood get behind the wheel of the car and then rode with her COULD be charged with aiding and abetting a DUI accident. So the guy who walked her to the car and then left the scene has some potential issues also if the DA wants to make an issue of it. Bottom line - don't let friends/others drive drunk and don't hand them the keys to the car and then get in. Dumb on two counts.
( January 30th, 2023 @ 7:34 pm )
As a NC CPA Woods has violated the NC CPA code of ethics that can get her CPA license pulled. The NC CPA Rules of Professional Conduct say that discreditable conduct is prohibited - this includes acts that reflect adversely on the CPA’s honesty, integrity, trust worthiness, good moral character, or fitness as a CPA. Beth Woods is a fail on this rule.
Big Bob said:
( January 30th, 2023 @ 3:09 pm )
Drunk? Really. I thought people fled the scene of an accident when totally sober! NC needs to crack down much harder on drunks who drive. Money and power should not protect you.

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