Educational Broadcasting Authority vote to lift hiring freeze raises question
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Monday, an Educational Broadcasting Authority committee voted to lift a hiring and purchasing freeze imposed on West Virginia Public Broadcasting by Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin.
However, the question is whether the Legislature took that authority away from Education and the Arts as part of a law it passed in 2011.
The primary purpose of the legislation (HB2695) is to provide an exception in the state Ethics law ban that prohibits state employees from soliciting and now allows Public Broadcasting personalities to take part in on-air fundraising campaigns.
However, the legislation also revised the 1989 law that created the seven executive branch departments to oversee all state agencies. That law specified that the EBA is under the Department of Education and the Arts.
The 2011 legislation adds a proviso to that section of the code, stating that Education and the Arts' relationship with EBA is "for purposes of administrative support and liaison with the office of the governor."
Educational Public Broadcasting Executive Director Dennis Adkins said he believes that legislation moved Education and the Arts from having direct authority over EBA to acting in an advisory capacity.
At times on Monday, Adkins bristled as Deputy Secretary Martha McKee went through an item-by-item review of a list of purchase orders and personnel postings that had been frozen, pending Monday's committee meeting.
On Tuesday, House Government Organization Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, said he had asked committee counsel to verify the Legislature's intent in changing that provision.
"It's a question of who's going to make these decisions," he said of the 2011 law.
In 2005, then-Gov. Joe Manchin pushed through legislation making the governor the chairman of a number of state boards and agencies, including the EBA.
Legislators, concerned that the law could give Manchin too much influence over programming and news coverage on public TV and radio, limited his term on EBA to four years. In 2009, he appointed Goodwin as his designee on the EBA, a position she continues to hold in the Tomblin administration.
McKee said Tuesday that Goodwin acted in that capacity in ordering the freeze.
"She is the governor's designee on the board," McKee said of her order imposing the freeze on Public Broadcasting.
McKee suggested that Goodwin's role as the governor's designee trumps any changes the Legislature made in the department's oversight of EBA in the 2011 law.
"It is basically due diligence in dealing with EBA finances," she added.
McKee said she doesn't know "anything about the legislative intent of" the changes in HB2695.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.