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