CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An attorney for West Virginia Local Health Inc. believes the group's board members voting on methodology for grant distribution does not constitute an unlawful conflict of interest, even though the members represent health departments eligible for the funding.
Taunja Willis-Miller, an attorney with Jackson Kelly, issued the legal opinion to Shelly Duncan, executive director of West Virginia Association of Local Health Departments and a representative of West Virginia Local Health Inc.
"Because of the representative nature of the Board membership, there may always be some perception of conflict," Willis-Miller wrote. "However, one must assume that all board members recognize the representative nature of other board members, i.e., there is full disclosure of those interests.
"Moreover, the Board members are all employees and representatives of public entities; consequently, they should not be deriving private, personal gain from their actions," she continued.
At an April 23 health board meeting, Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, argued that West Virginia Local Health Inc. board members voting for the distribution of funds could constitute a conflict of interest or a perception of one because those board members represent local health departments which are eligible for grant funding.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department has since dropped its membership with the state Association of Local Health Departments over concerns about the way Local Health Inc. intended to distribute grant funds.
According to the legal opinion, dated April 16, Willis-Miller does not believe board members voting on the methodology for grant distribution is an illegal conflict of interest.
"We do not think a legally impermissible conflict of interest would exist," Willis-Miller wrote in part.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Gupta declined to comment, calling it a legal matter that is under review by the department's attorney.