Statehouse Beat: DHHR mystery may be revealed
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After eight weeks, the mysterious disciplinary action against three Department of Health and Human Resources administrators may be coming to a resolution soon.
Word is that, in light of DHHR attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor filing their official 30-day notice of intent to sue acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo for defamation, invasion of privacy and violations of state whistleblower and ethics laws, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has given Fucillo until the first of this week to either state his case against the two (and communications director John Law) or reinstate all three.
Whatever alleged transgressions the three committed against Fucillo and the DHHR, we can assume the charges are weak, since all three are will-and-pleasure employees. If Fucillo had any sort of a case, he could have fired the trio outright.
As we found out with the state Supreme Court ruling upholding Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith's firing of state archivist Fred Armstrong for "not being a team player" and for questioning his decisions, the law is in the administrator's favor when it comes to at-will employees, barring extremely egregious actions.
As reported here previously, Fucillo works primarily out of a DHHR satellite office in the Middletown Mall in Fairmont, and had been billing the state for his mileage, meals and lodging on trips to Charleston -- until Tomblin put the kibosh on that in late July.
However, on days when Fucillo works out of Fairmont, his administrative assistant, Bea Bailey, still has to commute regularly from Charleston to Fairmont.
According to invoices in the state auditor's office, Bailey has used rental cars through the state Fleet Management contract, and has billed the state for reimbursement for costs of refueling the rental cars.
According to travel expense accounts, Bailey's work hours on days when she commutes to Fairmont are from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., which suggests she is in Fairmont for about four hours, from about 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Speaking of the mysterious reassignment leave for the three DHHR administrators, it turns out when the three were put on leave July 17, Fucillo had their swipe cards deactivated, and changed the locks on their office doors.
It would be interesting to know at what point the three realized they were being disciplined. When the swipe card to enter the state parking building downtown didn't work, I would think one's first thought was that it had been sitting in a hot car for too long. Ditto (possibly) for the swipe card employee entrance to One Davis Square.
However, by the time you find that your office key no longer unlocks the door, you've probably gotten a hint.
For someone who lost his case before the state Supreme Court Friday, high court candidate Allen Loughry certainly could have done a lot worse.
First, the court ruled that he can keep the $400,000 in public campaign financing he's already received, which truth be told, is more than he could have ever hoped to raise in a privately funded campaign.
The court also said he's now free to do as much fundraising as he wants between now and Nov. 6.
On top of that, as Loughry put it, he's received an invaluable amount of publicity during his efforts to get the court to order the release of more than $140,000 of public financing matching funds due him as part of the Supreme Court election pilot project.
Given that it's reasonable to believe Justice Robin Davis is a lock to retain one of the two seats up for election on the high court, and with polls show Loughry running close with Democrat Tish Chafin and Republican John Yoder, the media coverage portraying him as the candidate pursuing fair and impartial judicial elections has to be a positive.
(Chafin, by the way, will be hosting a campaign fundraiser Sept. 19 at Appalachian Power Park.)
Speaking of the Supreme Court, oral arguments in Loughry's motion on Tuesday were the first in the court chambers since the original design of the floor was restored this summer.
The chambers again look the way architect Cass Gilbert intended when they opened in 1929, featuring a checkerboard pattern of tan and dark brown pressed cork tiles, edged along the chamber walls with a green-tinted marble.
The original flooring had been covered with red carpet in the late 1940s or early 1950s, evidently part of a post-war national frenzy to try to put carpeting and/or paneling over everything in sight ...
Court administrator Steve Canterbury had been on a mission for some time to restore the chamber to its original appearance. I don't know anything about interior design, but it looked great to me ...
Finally, pity poor Supreme Court Chief Justice Menis Ketchum. Not only did the Marshall grad and avid Herd fan have to show his face in public Tuesday for oral arguments in the Loughry case, but with recusals, the other judges presiding -- Justice Thomas McHugh, and sitting Circuit Judges Lewis Marks, Christopher Wilkes, and James Mazzone -- all are West Virginia University grads.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.