In two months of running the state Department of Transportation's ferries, Harold "Buddy" Finch says he ran into nepotism, payroll padding and questionable spending. He brought it to the attention of the department's top officials and its inspector general.
They launched an investigation — and fired Finch for not being a team builder.
Finch, 58, is a career Coast Guard officer who came out of retirement May 1 to lead a division battered by a federal investigation into illegal dredging in Currituck Sound. The former division director was convicted of lying to investigators.
Finch said he was told his hiring to the $92,500 job was part of an effort to get the division back on track, but he said his firing June 25 shows the DOT lacks the courage of its convictions. "I thought I was brought in to fix it, but I guess I tried to fix too much," Finch said.
Finch's allegations came just after state lawmakers passed a $19 billion budget that cuts many agencies, but increases the ferry division's take by 35 percent. The division will receive $43.5 million, up from $32.2 million in the fiscal year that ended Wednesday.
DOT officials said they encouraged Finch to report problems within the ferry division, which is based in Morehead City. Several of his allegations remain under investigation by DOT's inspector general, they said.
They said they fired Finch because of personality conflicts with staff. They also said he had fallen behind on a 60-day business plan for the division.
"In the end, was Buddy going to be able to meet the expectations that I gave him for this job?" said Jim Trogdon, the DOT's chief operating officer. "My determination was no."
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