Commentary: Perdue makes smart move on gifts

Gov. Beverly Perdue kept it simple, as it should be. An order issued Thursday bans all employees in her administration from accepting food or gifts from companies doing business with the state. This policy should have been in place long ago, but give the governor credit for a quick response to embarrassing reports in The News & Observer about employees of the Division of Motor Vehicles bellying up to a trough provided by Verizon Business, which has a $51.5 million, no-bid contract to provide computers and services for the state's vehicle inspection program.

Now Perdue says she'll ask legislators to make the ban apply to agencies outside the purview of the governor, such as the Department of Agriculture, the Labor Department and others. Those agencies are run by independently elected officials, so Perdue's order, for now, covers only those in executive departments under her. A state ethics law bans gifts for higher-ranking officials, but doesn't speak to those in lower-level positions, many of whom can have influence over negotiating contracts, etc.

Perdue's action comes, of course, at a time when former Gov. Mike Easley's campaigns are under scrutiny, along with efforts by his allies with regard to his wife's former job at N.C. State University. The intersection of public service with private interests can be risky without Stop signs in place.

In the case of DMV, which has been the focus of late, Verizon was hosting people at restaurants, hockey games and other venues. The company has fully cooperated with inquiries, including an ongoing one by the State Bureau of Investigation. Were laws broken? That remains to be seen. But at best, employees who accepted freebies showed extremely bad judgment.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.