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A political casualty, Kluttz sees her run as cabinet secretary coming to end

Looking to her future

Susan Kluttz

Susan Kluttz

By Mark Wineka
mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

RALEIGH — Susan Kluttz’s four-year stint as secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is almost over.

Kluttz and other state cabinet members — all political appointees of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory — received letters Wednesday from the transition team for Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat, saying they would be dismissed as of midnight Sunday.

Cooper plans to be sworn in just as the new year begins.

“I understand it,” Kluttz said Thursday afternoon from her Raleigh office. “… It’s politics. I realized when Gov. McCrory lost that my job goes with the governor.”

When she was hired, Kluttz noted, she signed a letter saying she understood what the terms of her employment were and that she served the state as a gubernatorial appointee.

Without politics and McCrory’s appointment of her four years ago, Kluttz said, she would not have had the chance to be the department’s secretary.

Kluttz expressed gratitude for McCrory’s giving her the opportunity and said Natural and Cultural Resources was the “best department in state government.”

“It’s been great,” she said. “I wouldn’t give anything for it.”

Kluttz, 67, served as mayor of Salisbury from 1997-2011 and was McCrory’s choice for Secretary of Cultural Resources in 2012.

In September 2015, her duties expanded when the Department of Natural Resources was merged with Cultural Resources by adding the N.C. Zoological Park, the N.C. Aquariums, the N.C. State Parks, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Program.

Kluttz said it turned out to be one of the most successful transitions in state government and credited “a terrific team” for making it happen.

“I’m very proud of that,” she said, describing the department as one that protected all the state-owned treasures. “The people who work here are very passionate about what they do.”

Kluttz also touted her department’s efforts to save historic preservation tax credits.

Kluttz made it a personal campaign, racking up 72 stops in 52 different cities and towns in North Carolina. At 10 of those, including Salisbury, McCrory joined her in calling for a grass-roots movement to persuade the General Assembly the tax credits were, among other positive things, an economic development tool.

“I’m very proud of the outcome of that,” Kluttz said.

Kluttz and McCrory came to know each other better when she was mayor of Salisbury and he was mayor of Charlotte and they served as charter members and officers of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition.

Earlier this month, the GOP-controlled General Assembly reduced Cooper’s political appointments from the 1,500 that McCrory had been allowed to 425.

Cooper still had control of his cabinet appointments, but the people he nominates, including Kluttz’s replacement, must be confirmed by legislators — another wrinkle added in the days since McCrory’s election defeat.

When McCrory conceded the election, Kluttz recognized her time as secretary would be ending. She met with her senior staff the day after McCrory’s concession, then with division directors after that.

Wednesday’s letter of dismissal, when a few dozen notices from the Cooper transition team went out, was mostly a formality for Kluttz and other McCrory appointees.

The notices were signed by Kristi Jones, who has been named as Cooper’s chief of staff.

Kluttz says she expects her department will operate at first with an interim secretary. She expressed regret she could not continue in the position and said she isn’t ready to retire.

“It’s difficult to stop,” she said. “We were moving so fast with future plans. It’s very difficult to leave.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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