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Ethics Commission in contract talks with director finalist

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the West Virginia Ethics Commission did not hire a new executive director Thursday, but authorized current executive director Theresa Kirk and personnel committee chairman Jon Turak to enter into contract negotiations with the finalist.

Commission members took that action after meeting in executive session to get an update from the personnel committee, which over the past month has interviewed seven applicants for the position.

Kirk, who has been executive director for the past four years, and was legal counsel for the commission for the previous four years, announced in December she would be stepping down to seek employment in the private sector.

Kirk's last day will be March 8, and she said Thursday that plans are to have the new executive director on board before then, to allow for a transition period. By law, the executive director of the Ethics Commission must be a lawyer.

Also during Thursday's meeting, commissioners:

• Determined that a high school principal may be employed at a business owned by a coach at the high school, but should not participate in annual performance evaluations for the coach.

"It's an unusual, unique situation," said Kirk.

Although requests for ethics advisory opinions are confidential, the request evidently comes from Greenbrier East High School Principal Jeff Bryant, who also is director of entertainment at The Greenbrier resort.

Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier, coaches the boys and girls basketball teams at Greenbrier East.

• Postponed action on a request for an advisory opinion on whether municipal employees in a small town may use city equipment for personal use.

Commissioners were told it is a common practice in small municipalities in the state to allow employees to be able to use city owned equipment, such as backhoes, for personal use at no charge or at discount.

After extended discussion over whether the practice amounts to an acceptable fringe benefit for low-paid town employees, or a potential ethics law violation, commissioners tabled the matter to the March meeting.

"To me, the issue is, are they allowed to offer this as a fringe benefit to employees?" Turak said.

• Granted an employment exemption to Eric Coberly, chief of the Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation in the Department of Environmental Protection, in order to seek employment with regulated private-sector businesses.

• Agreed to submit a formal request to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to authorize Deputy Attorney General Marty Wright to represent the commission on various matters.

Wright, who had been a legal counsel for the commission before joining the Attorney General's Office last month, has several matters pending. Among them is a hearing for Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh, who faces ethics charges for allegedly exchanging city contracts for financial interests in those companies.

"We feel it is in the best interest of the commission to have Marty take that matter to public hearing," said Kirk, who said Morrisey has agreed to allow Wright to represent the commission.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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