From Army Man to Transportation Chief to Author: North Carolina's Tony Tata Resigns

by | July 29, 2015

By Lauren Horsch

Former Durham mayor Nick Tennyson has been named acting secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation following the Tuesday resignation of Secretary Tony Tata.

Tennyson, chief deputy secretary under Tata, served as the mayor here from 1997-2001. He joined NCDOT in April of 2013.

Tata's resignation came after criticism for going on a book tour before an impending snowstorm. In a resignation statement, he said he wanted to focus on his family and book career.

Tata sent an email Tuesday to Transportation Department staff, listing his accomplishments during more than two years in office, including reducing wait times at the Division of Motor Vehicles and an agreement with environmental groups that allows construction of the Bonner Bridge to Hatteras Island to begin.

"While there is much more work to do, it is time for me to focus on personal and family matters as well as my passion for authorship," he wrote.

Tennyson told The Herald-Sun Tuesday that he'd known there was going to be a changing of the guard after some communication with the governor's office.

"Secretary Tata got some substantial momentum built, in a positive direction for NCDOT," Tennyson said of his predecessor's time with the department. "I want to do everything I can to see as many of those move to fruition."

Tennyson said he is proud and humbled to be named acting secretary.

"I am proud of the fact that I have developed a good enough relationship with the NCDOT employees, and the governor and the legislature that makes it believable (for me) to do this job," he said. "And then humbled, because it's a critical function for the state, and it's a huge challenge."

When he joined the department in 2013 he didn't think he'd be in the position he is today.

"I thought that Secretary Tata would be here as long as I was," he said.

His transition from local government to the DOT came after he got to know fellow Republican, Gov. Pat McCrory, back when they were both mayors, McCrory in Charlotte.

"I knew that we both had similar concerns, both from large cities, and so when he began to run for governor, I certainly wanted to see him be successful," Tennyson said. "When he was elected I was happy to have a chance to join the team."

On Tuesday McCrory praised Tata for his work. "Tony Tata has been a valuable partner in our efforts to reform and modernize North Carolina's transportation system," McCrory said in a news release.

Tata, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, stoked controversy earlier this year when he left on a book tour hours before a predicted storm coated much of the state in ice, making roads treacherous. Tata has routinely made appearances on cable television news shows to serve as a conservative political commentator.

He is also the author of several novels, his latest a thriller about a disgraced special forces commando searching for an American traitor.

He has been widely rumored to be considering a run for Congress. WTVD-TV reported in June that Tata addressed the issue in an email that said he was humbled to be asked to run for office. Tata never directly said he wouldn't run, only that he was committed to serving the citizens of North Carolina.

Before being appointed transportation secretary, Tata served as superintendent of the Wake County schools for less than two years. He was fired in September 2012 by a board that cited a strained relationship with Tata.

Tennyson, who lives in Durham, said he doesn't know how long his tenure as acting secretary will run. Right now it's up in the air for how a new secretary will be chosen by the governor's staff.

"I have made it clear, if the governor wants me to continue in this position, I would," Tennyson said.

While the decision of who will take over as secretary remains in flux, Tennyson said he'd continue to work on areas close to his conscience.

"I am most disturbed by accidents and injuries and results of those mishaps across the state," he said. "I know Secretary Tata was focused on safety, and I will continue to be doing my best to see that we are doing the best to drive down the loss of life on our network."

EDITOR'S NOTE -- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

(c)2015 The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.)