N.C. Ethics Board: Fire Trudy Brown for violations

Saturday, March 25, 2006
Greensboro electrologist misused position, board rules
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By Mark Binker
Staff Writer

RALEIGH – A Greensboro electrologist used her role as chairwoman of a state regulatory board to advance her own business interests and should be removed, the N.C. Board of Ethics ruled Friday.

Trudy Brown has been chairwoman of the N.C. Board of Electrologist Examiners, which oversees professionals who use electricity delivered by needles to destroy hair. Board members voted 5-2 for a resolution that says Brown used her public office to lobby for legislation that would benefit her business and to raise money for that lobbying effort.

Director Perry Newson called the case “the worst individual situation” he has seen in his seven years working for the board. But Brown said that she had done nothing wrong.

“This legislation is not about money,” Brown told the board. “It’s not about furthering my financial gain. … This is about public safety.”

The January 2005 death of an N.C. State student who was preparing for a laser hair treatment drew public scrutiny to the virtually unregulated practice of laser hair removal.

Brown’s efforts to expand that board’s oversight to include laser hair removal devices – including trying to raise $100,000 to lobby the legislature for what are know as the “laser bills” – made her a central player in a long-running rift among factions of hair removal practitioners and drew the ethics board’s attention.

Brown told board members that laser devices were the future of her profession and without the ability to use them, electrologists would “die off.”

But some electrologists vehemently oppose adding laser devices to their practice and don’t want the General Assembly to change the law. One of those, Ronda Jones of Kernersville, brought the ethics complaint that led to Friday’s ruling.

Specifically, the board contends that Brown would have benefited from the new legislation because she is the only laser hair instructor in the state who is not a doctor. The legislation she backed would require 30 hours of training. It would also protect laser hair removal devices from being outlawed for all but doctors by the North Carolina Medical Board, protecting investments in equipment made by Brown and similar practitioners.

Brown was appointed by House Speaker Jim Black.

“Obviously, the speaker first and foremost fully supports the board’s action,” said Julie Robinson, a spokeswoman for Black. “The speaker will do what’s necessary to support the board’s ruling.”

Robinson said it was unclear Friday whether Black or Gov. Mike Easley had the power to remove Brown.

Brown was visibly upset after the hearing and said she was unsure how or whether she would appeal the case.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said outside the government office building that hosted the hearing. “I still don’t see where I did anything wrong.”

In a written report to the board and during Friday’s daylong hearing, Newson pointed out several problems with Brown’s conduct, including:

• Brown aimed to raise $100,000 to pay Don Vaughan – a former Greensboro lawyer, lobbyist and former city council member – for his lobbying fees and to cover other expenses.

• She made fundraising appeals during a board meeting and by way of an e-mail address over which she sent official correspondence.

• She used her status as board chairwoman to lobby for the bill before the board had voted to back the bill.

“The sheer scope and magnitude of the violations are staggering,” Newson wrote to the board.

Among the focuses of Brown’s lobbying were Rep. Maggie Jeffus and Sen. Kay Hagan. Both Greensboro-based representatives introduced bills that Brown backed during last year’s legislative session.

Hagan was in China on Friday and could not be reached.

Jeffus said that she was impressed by Brown’s credentials and thought that it was a good idea to regulate the here-to-for unregulated practice of laser hair removal.

Of the $100,000 fundraising goal, Jeffus said “To me, personally, it’s a lot of money. I just don’t know how much a lobbyist charges.”

Brown told the board that the $100,000 figure equaled the cost to originally get the current electrologist practice act in North Carolina and do laser amendments in other states.

Vaughan said Friday he has billed about $24,000 for his services.

The laser hair removal bill passed the House last year but was never taken up by the Senate. Senators could pick up the bill in May, but Friday’s ruling may make them leery of dealing with it.

“I hope so,” Jones said after the hearing. “I want to stop it.” Article

Fundraising effort spurs ethics charge
An electrologist’s bid to raise $100,000 to push a bill stirs accusations of conflict of interest

Dan Kane, Staff Writer

Last year, as lawmakers were weighing legislation to help electrologists who operate lasers to remove unwanted hair, the head of the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners asked her colleagues to help her raise $100,000 to get the bill approved.

The money was to be sent to the chairman, Trudy Brown, in checks made out to her business’s lobbyist, Don Vaughan of Greensboro. Brown is an electrologist from High Point who uses lasers and trains others on their use.

“I spoke with Don Vaughan today and he told me it was D-Day,” Brown wrote. “We have had the legislation on hold due to lack of money. … If every electrologist that has a laser will pay $5,000 then this will mainly pay for our bill and the rest of the money we could get from the laser companies.”

Today the N.C. Board of Ethics will discuss whether the fundraising effort, and Brown’s other actions to get the law passed, were a conflict of interest with her role as head of the state board, which licenses electrologists. The board will be diving into a rift between electrologists who think lasers are the wave of the future and those who think lasers should be used only by doctors and others with medical training.

The ethics board’s executive director, Perry Newson, would confirm only that the complaint is scheduled for a hearing today. His investigative report recommends that the board go into closed session after the hearing, then vote in public on any findings.

Brown’s e-mail message has prompted questions about the amount of money she sought and what she and Vaughan would have done with the money had she raised it. Brown said she raised only about $24,000, which Vaughan reported earning as a fee on his lobbyist reports for last year.

Brown said in an interview that she and Vaughan arrived at the $100,000 estimate, which she said was for lobbying costs. Vaughan said that he never discussed the need for $100,000 with Brown but that he did receive several checks from electrologists.

Vaughan is a Greensboro lawyer who reported representing one other lobbying client last year, the National Solid Waste Management Association, and had not registered as a lobbyist in the previous 11 years. He served as a city council member for 14 years until he lost a re-election bid in 2005. Gov. Mike Easley appointed him to the N.C. Banking Commission in 2002.

The sponsors of the bill in the House and Senate said they saw no evidence of money being spread around in campaign contributions or perks such as expensive dinners or trips – and that they would never solicit any. Both said they were surprised by the e-mail pitch.

“I am aghast,” said Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat. “I certainly have never seen anything like that.”

Rep. Maggie Jeffus, also a Greensboro Democrat, said, “It’s a lot of money to me, but as I have said, I have no idea what some of the lobbyists are paid or what they’ve done in the past, or that sort of thing. This was all new to me.”

Both lawmakers filed the bill in 2005, roughly two months before Brown’s e-mail request. Jeffus said she let Vaughan write the bill with legislative staff. In the session’s waning days in August, the bill cleared the House by a 93-20 vote.

Brown said the bill fills a void in regulating the use of lasers. She said she and other electrologists have been using them for several years without a license. The bill would require electrologists to complete a 30-hour certification course and be licensed by the board to operate the lasers.

“All this was just really to protect the consumer and to try to move the profession forward,” she said. “I really don’t understand why someone would take offense to this.”

But Ronda Jones, an electrologist in Forsyth County who filed the ethics complaint, said Brown was pushing for legislation that served her interests over the interests of electrologists who do not use lasers. Jones said the lasers are too dangerous to be regulated by their profession.

“This is not against the technology,” Jones said, “but we are having a few bullies in our profession who are saying we’re going to be doing it our way.”

Brown’s e-mail message tries to enlist electrologists to her cause or risk seeing the N.C. Medical Board handle regulation.

“The word is out that the Medical Board is going to require on-site supervision,” Brown wrote. “It is difficult to know exactly what is going to happen. Our best protection is to have it in our Electrolysis Practice Act.”

She also wrote that it cost $100,000 to get the legislation that created the state electrolysis board roughly 15 years ago.

The ethics board has no power to punish or remove officials. If it finds a conflict of interest, it could forward that finding to the official who appointed Brown to the electrolysis board, House Speaker Jim Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

The bill awaits approval in the Senate, which could happen during this year’s session. But Hagan said she doesn’t plan to be its champion.

“Right now, I don’t have a lot of time to be the point person on that issue,” Hagan said.


Fire electrolysis official, board rules
Ethics violations seen in her actions

J. Andrew Curliss and Dan Kane, Staff Writers

The head of the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners improperly used her public position for personal gain and should be removed from the appointed post, the state ethics board ruled late Friday after a hearing.

Recommending removal is the strongest sanction the board can take.

Trudy Brown, who owns laser hair removal clinics in Greensboro and High Point, used her position as head of the five-member state electrolysis examiners board to solicit money from owners of clinics that are licensed by the board, the ethics board ruled.

That represented a conflict of interests, the ethics board said.

Brown also used her public position to further personal gain while pushing changes to laws, the board ruled.

The ethics board’s vote was 5-2, with at least one dissenter saying that recommending removal was too harsh, according to the ethics board’s director, Perry Newson.

Brown and her lawyer and lobbyist, Don Vaughan of Greensboro, could not be reached. Both appeared at the hearing and denied any wrongdoing, Newson said.

As a result of testimony at the hearing, the ethics board will open investigations of two other members of the electrolysis examiners board.

Ethics officials also want legislators to examine how the board functions.

The removal request will be made to House Speaker Jim Black, who recommended Brown for the position.

A spokeswoman for Black said Friday the speaker supports the removal decision.

It wasn’t clear whether Black can remove her or whether Gov. Mike Easley must take formal action because her official appointment was the result of the state’s appointments law, signed by Easley.

Records show that Brown asked her colleagues to help her raise $100,000 as lawmakers considered passing legislation that would help electrologists who operate lasers to remove unwanted hair.

Brown has said she raised only about $24,000, which Vaughn reported earning as a fee on lobbying reports last year.

An electrologist in Forsyth County, Rhonda Jones, filed a complaint about the practice. She said Brown was pushing legislation that served her interests over those of electrologists who do not use lasers.

The ethics board also found that Brown improperly mentioned her state board position on a commercial Web site.


Posted on Fri, Mar. 24, 2006
Board recommends electrolysis examiners chair lose job
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. - The state ethics board on Friday recommended that the chairwoman of the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners lose her job due to a conflict of interest in soliciting contributions from fellow board members and for using her position for personal financial benefit.

Trudy Brown had asked colleagues to help raise money to get a bill, which would have helped electrologists who operate lasers to remove unwanted hair, approved last year. Checks were to be made out to Brown’s business’s lobbyist, Don Vaughan, and sent to Brown, an electrologist who uses lasers and trains others on how to use them.

“I spoke with Don Vaughan today and he told me it was D-Day,” Brown wrote. “We have had the legislation on hold due to lack of money. … If every electrologist that has a laser will pay $5,000 then this will mainly pay for our bill and the rest of the money we could get from the laser companies.”

The N.C. Board of Ethics felt that Brown had a conflict of interest in asking for donations from board members and others whom the board has authority over, said Perry Newson, the board’s executive director. It also felt that by asking for the donations, she was using her position to get a personal financial benefit since it was Brown’s obligation to pay the lobbyist, Newson said.

The board also found that Brown used her public position to try to further and pursue a professional agenda.

Brown could not be reached for comment at her office Friday evening, but had told The News & Observer of Raleigh that the bill was to protect the consumer and to try to move the profession forward.

Brown said she and other electrologists have used lasers for years without a license. The bill would have required electrologists to complete a certification course and be licensed by the board to operate the lasers.

Newson said the recommendation that Brown lose her job goes to House Speaker Jim Black.

Black recommended Brown’s appointment to Gov. Mike Easley based on the recommendations of others and does not know Brown, Black spokeswoman Julie Robinson said.

“The speaker believes that the Board of Ethics has looked into this matter fully and he supports their decision and if it’s up to him, he’ll take the appropriate action,” Robinson said.

The board also voted to start an investigation of two other electrolysis examiners board members, Melissa Smith of Raleigh and Margaret Wingate of Charlotte. Newson would not give any other details.

The board voted to forward its findings to other state officials, such as the secretary of state and attorney general.


Both Fino and I were there to take part in the case.

The news articles don’t tell you half the testimony given.

The good news, is that justice seems to be on track here, and the right thing seems to be forthcoming.

Although some of what Trudy Brown wants to bring about is good, the way she has operated has been more naughty than nice. In many cases, she has been simply self serving, while saying with a straight face that she has only the public interest at heart.

Wilmington Star editorial

March 24. 2006

Will Dems go down with Jim Black?

The leader of Democrats in the N.C. House now is being investigated for possible criminal violations of the election law. But whether Jim Black is indicted or convicted is beside the point.

Black presides over a system in which people and organizations that want favors from the legislature believe they can buy them from Black and the legislators – Republicans as well as Democrats – that he buys with their “campaign contributions.”

On the same day the State Board of Elections voted unanimously to ask a prosecutor to investigate Black and the optometrists and video poker operators who may have broken the law when they gave him money, the state Board of Ethics took up yet another hairy matter in which Black played a role.

The head of the obscure Board of Electrolysis Examiners sought “campaign contributions” of $5,000 apiece from hair-removal specialists to help pass a bill that would let them use lasers.

The Democratic legislator who sponsored the bill allowed the lobbyist for the electrolysis industry to help write the bill – though the Honorable had no earthly idea that money might have been spent to smooth the way. Perish the thought.

In any case, despite the apparent unease of the medical profession about the use of potentially dangerous lasers by hair-zapping folks, the House passed the bill 93-20. It awaits action in the Senate.

In a solicitation to colleagues in the follicle-frying fraternity, Trudy Brown explained that the last time they needed political help – when the Honorables established the electrolysis board – it cost $100,000.

Care to guess who appointed Brown to that board? You’re catching on.

Understand: If Black were to be convicted of breaking one of the laws he and his buddies wrote, the penalty would be piddling. Black and like-minded statesmen in Raleigh have seen to it that violations of the election laws are misdemeanors.

What matters is what North Carolinians have learned in recent months about how Black does business, and with whom.

About how he uses public money to create state jobs for people who help him keep power.

About how he sneaked into law a requirement that children get full-scale eye exams that would benefit his own profession, and how some people in that profession sent stacks of incomplete checks to him to use where they would do the most good.

About how he protects the video poker industry, which a good-government researcher says is “engaged in laundering illegal profits … and converting them into political donations … which have the purpose of protecting the illegal machines.”

About how he cut the budget of a state agency that had fined his son, a pesticide operator.

About how his “unpaid political adviser” was on the payroll of a company that wanted North Carolina to pass a lottery so it could get a piece of the action. And about how Black appointed another company “consultant” to the board that runs the lottery. (He resigned when his cover blew.)

If after these revelations – and heaven knows how many more to come – House Democrats don’t refuse Black’s dirty money and don’t replace him as their leader, they will announce to the voters that they are willing – nay, enthusiastic – accomplices to corruption.

Then there’s this way of looking at it:

Raw Deal at the Electrolysis Board

The link above leads to this article:

John Hood’s Daily Journal
Raw Deal at the Electrolysis Board

By John Hood
March 28, 2006

RALEIGH – Talk about a raw deal. Trudy Brown, head of the North Carolina Board of Electrolysis Examiners, was the subject of a hearing Friday at the N.C. Board of Ethics. It decided that her transgression – using her public office for personal gain – merited the most severe punishment the board could mete out, a recommendation to remove her from office.

Why would removal be a raw deal? Because Brown, who owns hair-removal clinics in Guilford County, couldn’t possibly have known about any rule preventing state licensing boards from serving the economic interests of its members and officers. You see, with few exceptions, these licensing boards exist precisely to serve the economic interests of members and officers. They exist to exclude competitors and entice a steady stream of willing customers. They are creatures of professional self-interest, not the public interest.

I’m kidding a bit about Brown, of course. As the News & Observer reported last week, she was caught in an embarrassingly brazen pitch for funds from electrologists to be used essentially to purchase a favorable outcome in the General Assembly. Coming out in the midst of the spectacular elections-board hearings about broader campaign-finance allegations, the electrolysis-board story got major play and was certain to lead to repercussions.

But I am serious about questioning the logic of enforcing a standard that, in the context of occupational licensure, makes no sense. The problematic and sometimes distasteful history of such boards should be well-known by now, as should the underlying political economy. Serving as a textbook case of public choice economics, these licensing boards are typically created after political pressure from the supposedly regulated professionals or associations. No one else takes much of an interest in their activities.

North Carolina has boards “regulating” auctioneers, cosmetologists, and barbers, just to name a few. No one seriously believes that public safety or the Republic is significantly endangered by unlicensed auctioneers and rogue coiffeurs. Licensing standards truly exist to limit the number of practitioners entering the market, thus boosting prices and profits for incumbent practitioners, while also guaranteeing that would-be practitioners have to purchase training and credentials from recognized institutions, which are often the very same incumbent practitioners. They make money both ways.

In the electrolysis case, the legislation in question would have extended state regulation to the use of lasers at hair-removal clinics, a practice that apparently is not currently covered by licensure rules. Brown claimed the measure would “protect the consumer.” Other providers, however, argued that it would boost the business of clinics using the lasers, such as Brown’s, at the expense of those that did not.

I’m not in the business, so I’ll plead ignorance as to whether the latter is true. It would be entirely consistent with the history of these kinds of licensing agencies, however. And the Ethics Board apparently concluded that the regulation would have benefited Brown, which is telling.

The irony of the board’s action is delicious. Its recommendation for removal is directed to the state politician who appointed Brown: House Speaker-for-now Jim Black.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.


Electrolysis panel member raises brows, quits

Dan Kane and Bill Krueger, Staff Writers

Trudy Brown has resigned from the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners after the N.C. Board of Ethics found that her efforts to push a bill aiding electrologists who use lasers amounted to using her professional position for personal gain.
Brown was chairwoman of the board, which licenses and regulates electrologists. She is an electrologist with offices in High Point and Greensboro.

Brown got into trouble for asking her colleagues to contribute $5,000 each to help raise a total of $100,000 to pay for efforts to get the legislation passed.

Last month, the ethics board found that Brown’s actions benefited those electrologists who use or want to use the lasers and hurt those who don’t.

The bill cleared the House last year, but has not passed the Senate.

Brown said in her resignation letter to House Speaker Jim Black, who had recommended her for the board, that she did nothing wrong and was only trying to protect North Carolina consumers by working to pass the legislation.

Looks as though a lot of pepole are interested in stirring the pot here. Not really sure as to why. Here is another article on the same subject. Doesnt seem to be as scathing as the ones listed above.


Greensboro electrologist resigns after ethics board ruling
Associated Press

RALEIGH — The head of the state Board of Electrolysis Examiners has resigned, just days after the state ethics board recommended her removal for a suspected conflict of interest.

Trudy Brown, in a letter dated March 28, told House Speaker Jim Black of her decision to step down as chairwoman of the electrolysis board.

The ethics board determined March 24 that a conflict of interest occurred when Brown solicited fellow electrolysis board members and others to help get a bill passed that would have benefitted people who train electrologists.

Brown, an electrologist, uses lasers and trains others in how to use them.

The solicitations made it appear she was using her position to receive a personal financial benefit, the ethics board found.

Brown has said she and other electrologists have used lasers for years without a license. The bill would have required electrologists to complete a certification course and be licensed by the board to operate the lasers.

“I contend I did nothing wrong and have only given freely of my time and energy to serve” on the electrolysis board, Brown wrote to Black, who had recommended her to the board. The bill was designed to protect consumers, she added.

Published: Apr 04, 2006 12:30 AM
Modified: Apr 04, 2006 12:13 PM

A bad hair day

Call it an ah-hah moment in confirming the public’s suspicion of pay-to-play politics on Jones Street. It came in an e-mail from the head of the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners asking practitioners for $100,000 to secure the passage of favorable legislation.

The state Board of Ethics has only limited power, but this became an occasion to use that power to hold state government to higher standards of conduct. The board recommended ousting Trudy Brown, who chairs the electrolysis examiners panel and who owns three hair removal clinics, for using her public position for personal gain. That’s appropriate.

As The N&O reported, Brown wanted to see legislation regulating the use of lasers to remove unwanted hair. Fifteen years ago, it had cost $100,000 to pass legislation regulating electrolysis, Brown wrote in the e-mail to colleagues. So she figured, outrageously, they would need to raise that much to have the use of lasers codified.

The board judged Brown’s campaign as benefiting her own laser-based businesses in Greensboro and High Point over those who don’t use lasers. A conflict of interest that blatant ought to disqualify a person from service in an agency that is expected to regulate practitioners for the public’s benefit.

Yet the most serious sanction the Board of Ethics can impose is recommending Brown’s removal to Speaker Black, who nominated her for the post.

He should remove her, of course, but North Carolina’s goal should be to make government more ethical. For that, state leaders need to strengthen the board’s mandate, as well as the legal penalties for violations. Public cynicism is the price of inaction.

Full text of decsion attached.