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Kanawha commissioners grill county parks board

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission and county parks employees will receive state ethics training and revise their vehicle and donation policies in the wake of a tangle with the state Ethics Commission.

Parks board president Anna Dailey offered the information during an uncomfortable interrogation of the parks board by members of the Kanawha County Commission on Thursday.

County Commission President Kent Carper and Commissioner Dave Hardy are upset with parks officials over the handling of an ethics agreement signed recently by parks director Jeff Hutchinson. In the conciliation agreement, Hutchinson acknowledged using a county car to take his son to school, discounting picnic sites for charitable organizations and failing to tell ethics officials about a set of golf clubs that had been left at Coonskin Park but never opened. The clubs were eventually sent back.

Parks officials have generally stood behind Hutchinson, saying he had permission to use the car and discount picnic shelters. Following an executive session last week, the parks board voted to give Hutchinson a written reprimand for not telling ethics officials about the golf clubs, and voted to come up with policies on vehicle use and exactly how and when parks facilities can be discounted. They also required Hutchinson to attend ethics training.

But Dailey went further on Thursday, saying all parks board members and parks employees would be asked to take ethics training "so we all know what the rules are," she said.

"If we don't know what the rules are, how do our employees know what the rules are?"

Carper repeatedly attacked the parks board for talking about what to do about the ethics agreement in executive session, saying the Kanawha County Commission has not had a closed-door meeting in 16 years. Although parks officials can discuss personnel matters in executive session, he said nothing in state law requires them to.

"This is a public matter," he said. "It's public funds. I'm not fearful of discussing the public's business in public."

Hardy said he thought the punishment given Hutchinson should have been harsher. Although he conceded the allegations against the parks director may not be as bad as they appear, "What does the public think of this?" he said.

Hardy said Hutchinson had been in trouble with ethics officials once before for not reporting merchandise to the Ethics Commission.

The parks director is also a PGA golf pro, and is often sent equipment for testing or evaluation. The equipment is later sent back or donated.

Hardy said he thought the parks director should have been suspended without pay for a few days.

Hutchinson himself did not attend Thursday's meeting. "He's afraid you're going to defund the park," Dailey offered.

Carper and Hardy made it clear they wanted to be better informed about parks business in the future.

Also Thursday, county officials distributed a letter being sent to the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services asking that the contract for the Kanawha County senior services lunch program be rebid. Putnam Aging has had the contract for the nutrition program since 1993, but Carper said some seniors in the county are unhappy with the quality of the program and the food.

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

 


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