RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – For the first time in months, Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos spoke to reporters after getting a bipartisan grilling Tuesday from lawmakers worried about personnel decisions and other issues at her embattled state agency.
Wos stood by her decision to hire two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign aides to senior-level positions making salaries of $85,000 or more.
In the hearing, Republican Sen. Tommy Tucker told Wos he couldn’t defend the high pay to his constituents, noting his daughter-in-law earns only about a third as much as a public school teacher working with low-income students.
Sitting next to Wos at the hearing was her young chief policy adviser Matthew McKillip. McKillip is paid $87,500 a year after receiving a promotion and a $22,500 raise after only three months on the job.
Also in the room was DHHS Communications Director Ricky Diaz, who got a $23,000 raise in April to boost his state salary to $85,000.
Gov. Pat McCrory defended the high salaries for McKillip and Diaz in an August interview with WNCN, saying the two were the most qualified applicants and that they beat out “a lot of older people” for the jobs. However, it has since been reported the positions were never publicly advertised to outside candidates.
Tuesday, Wos again defended her young hires. When asked multiple times by reporters whether she had considered any other candidates before hiring McKillip and Diaz, Wos was unable to answer.
WNCN asked,”How can you say they are the best hire if you didn’t look at other candidates?”
Wos replied, “I didn’t say I didn’t. That was your comment.”
But DHHS has failed to produce documentation the two positions were ever posted.
On Wednesday, Diaz eventually pulled Wos away from reporters.
Earlier in the exchange with reporters, which took place after the hearing, Wos said of the hires, “I can tell you anyone who has worked with these two young men absolutely will concur with the fact that they were the best hires for the positions.”
Wos was also asked about transparency at DHHS. The communications staff has not always responded to requests for information, and Wos has not made herself available for an interview in months.
She said, “Yes sir, I think we have answered whatever you have asked us. I think today was a pretty good example of that,” referring to the hearing.
WNCN also asked Wos if recent hires, many with limited healthcare backgrounds, but who are GOP donors or insiders, are qualified for the posts.
“The needs in the department are so broad — talent that is not necessarily related to health itself [is often needed],” she said in part.
“Health is a product,” she continued. “We need an ability to produce that — sometimes that’s where we are weak in our organizational structure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article