CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Months before the state Board of Education voted to hire Jim Phares to replace former state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple, board President Wade Linger asked him for a copy of his résumé, according to emails obtained by the Gazette.
"I just simply wanted to see it because I was concerned about the direction of the department even back then, and I was aware that Dr. Phares had a lot of strong professional accomplishments. I just wanted to see it in writing," Linger said in a phone interview Thursday.
On Sept. 16, while Marple was still schools chief, Linger sent an email to Phares that asked, "Will you please email your bio to me? I don't need a full resume. Just the headlines."
Two months later, on Nov. 15, the Board of Education shocked many education leaders across the state by voting to terminate Marple. That same day, Linger recommended Phares for the position.
Leaders of the state's teachers unions, in addition to Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips -- former state board members who resigned because of Marple's firing -- voiced their concern with the board's firing process and Phares' speedy appointment.
Marple claimed the decision was merely political.
Though both Linger and Phares admitted to working with each other in Marion County, they denied that the move was predetermined or politically charged.
The day before Marple was fired, on Nov. 14, Linger forwarded Phares' bio to board liaison Donna Peduto, according to email records.
The same day, Linger asked Phares via email if he could be in Charleston the next day, which was the day that Marple was fired.
"Can you come to Charleston tomorrow if I can get us on the Gov schedule? Can we talk by phone this evening?" Linger asked Phares in the email.
When asked if he met with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to discuss Phares' appointment prior to Marple's termination, Linger said, "There was no such meeting."
Amy Shuler Goodwin, communications director for Tomblin, confirmed the governor did meet with Linger and Phares on Nov. 15, but after Marple had already been fired. Tomblin "didn't know [the board planned to fire Marple] until shortly before," Goodwin said.
Linger and Phares also exchanged emails a week before Marple's termination, collaborating on the governor's statewide education audit recommendations, particularly concerning the Department of Education's data system.
Phares had publicly voiced his displeasure with the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS), and in the email, Linger, who has a background in technology, makes it clear he's on the same page.
A Freedom of Information Act request was first filed by the Gazette in November after Marple's firing, but the Department of Education's legal counsel did not respond to the request until Thursday, saying the response was delayed because of multiple requests.
Since Marple was fired, accusations swirled as to why she was suddenly terminated in a 5-2 vote when just five months prior, the board gave her a glowing evaluation.
Some pointed to ties to her husband, former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who lost his re-election bid shortly before she was fired. Others, like Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association, blamed "a Manchin faction" for the decision. Sen. Joe Manchin's wife, Gayle, is currently vice president of the state board.
Another red flag for skeptics was when Phares did not hesitate to announce his plans to resign as Randolph County Schools' superintendent just 24 hours after Marple was fired.