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Ethics panel fines, reprimands Kanawha parks director

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials with the state Ethics Commission have reached an agreement with Kanawha County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson to settle a 4-year-old ethics complaint.

Under the agreement, made public Friday, Hutchinson agreed to pay a $1,500 fine, not use his county vehicle for personal use, using parks resources for personal gain or accepting anything worth more than $25 without first checking with ethics officials. The Ethics Commission also publicly reprimanded the parks director.

In 2009, ethics officials received a complaint alleging Hutchinson used his county-issued vehicle for personal trips and to take his son to school. The complaint also alleged Hutchinson offered discounted or free parks facilities to charities and other organizations and accepted gifts from vendors who did business with the parks system.

Another ethics complaint was filed in 2010 alleging Hutchinson paid himself $500 to provide golf instruction during a youth golf clinic and paid others to help with the clinic, which was held on a Saturday.

In the conciliation agreement, Ethics Commission officials said the Kanawha County parks board did not have policies to cover the use of Hutchinson's vehicle, doing side work while off the clock, discounting parks facilities or the use of parks resources.

But ethics officials said Hutchinson's conduct violated state ethics laws, and said the parks board should adopt policies consistent with the ethics findings.

Members of the parks board have sided with Hutchinson, saying discounting picnic shelters and other park facilities is common practice and saying they had confidence in the parks director.

Hutchinson referred questions to his lawyer, Joe Ward. Ward said ethics officials dismissed most of the allegations contained in the original ethics complaint.

"The original complaint was six pages, single-spaced and typed," Ward said. He said there were "dozens" of allegations against Hutchinson.

"The parks board was confident [Hutchinson] was going to be vindicated if it went to a hearing," Ward said. But he said fighting the complaints was expensive and a distraction from parks business.

He said Hutchinson agreed to sign the conciliation agreement to put an end to the matter.

"It's a settlement," Ward said. "They happen all the time."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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