Leslie ("Les") Merritt is a Republican politician from the U.S. state of North Carolina and a former North Carolina State Auditor, a position to which he was elected in 2004. Merritt was defeated by Democrat Beth Wood in the 2008 election as part of a Democratic sweep. Wood succeeded Merritt in January 2009. Shortly thereafter, Merritt joined with former FBI Agent Frank Perry to form the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service. Perry had also served as the lead investigator at the Auditor's Office. Merritt was executive director of the foundation from 2009 through 2011. In 2013 he was appointed to the state Ethics Commission, but had to resign after almost ten months in office over a perceived conflict regarding his status as a state contractor. In February 2012, Merritt joined the board of directors of the NC Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Merritt was born and raised in rural Sampson County. He and his wife now live in the eastern Wake County town of Zebulon. After earning degrees in economics and accounting from North Carolina State University and becoming a Certified Public Accountant, Merritt served as the president of the Zebulon Lions and Rotary clubs, and of the Zebulon Elementary School PTA. Merritt was elected to the Wake County Board of Commissioners in 1994, a post he held until 1998. Professionally, he served as president of Merritt, Petway, Mills & Hockaday, an accounting & auditing firm with offices in Zebulon and Raleigh, prior to being elected State Auditor. In 2000, he challenged incumbent Democratic State Auditor Ralph Campbell and was narrowly defeated. In a 2004 rematch against Campbell, Merritt narrowly defeated the three-term incumbent, campaigning on a platform of fiscal conservatism. During his campaign, Merritt touted his record on the Wake County Board of Commissioners. He was one of only three Republicans on the majority-Democratic North Carolina Council of State from January 2005 through January 2009. Merritt was the first Certified Public Accountant to serve as State Auditor of North Carolina.
In October 2008, Merritt delivered an audit of various overseas trips Governor Mike Easley and his wife Mary had taken. Easley has defended the use of taxpayer dollars for the trips. Mary Easley took two trips out of the country, one to France and one to Russia and Estonia, for "cultural exchanges" at a cost of $109,000, including $27,000 for rental of a French Mercedes and almost $9,000 in hotel and Monet tour costs, months after the North Carolina Museum of Art's Monet exhibit had ended. A separate trip to Italy in April 2008 taken jointly by the Easleys resulted in more than $100,000 in charges to taxpayers, including $51,640 for a Mercedes and a chauffeur. Critics called the trips overly lavish in a time of economic downturn for the state.
Although the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art defended Mary Easley's trips as possibly helping the museum to receive loaned art items from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Raleigh News and Observer noted that no results of the trips were yet evident as of July 2008. As state auditor, Merritt released a report October 31, 2008 that found that 40% of the overseas charges were "unreasonable or unallowable." Mary Easley has hired state Senator Tony Rand as her lawyer in dealing with Merritt.
Merritt found that the $27,000, on-call chauffeured SUV often followed Mary Easley's tour bus through the countryside rather than serving as her transportation. In Russia, hundreds of dollars were charged to the state for both caviar and alcohol purchases. $45,000 in private funds from the NC Art Museum's foundation were used to reimburse the state following Merritt's findings.
- "Audit tears into trips to Europe". Raleigh News and Observer. 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2008-10-31.[dead link]
- "Easley defends cost of overseas travel". WRAL-TV. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
- "Mary Easley trips cost state $109,000". News and Observer. 2008-07-01. Archived from the original on August 2, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
- Office of the State Auditor - official site
- Foundation for Ethics in Public Service (Les Merritt's new non-profit organization) - official site
- Personal Web site - official site[dead link]