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Acting chief of DHHR seeks ethics exemption

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Acting Health and Human Resources Secretary Rocco Fucillo is asking the state Ethics Commission for an employment exemption in order to seek a job in the private sector.

Fucillo, who became acting secretary in 2010, will serve in that capacity until June 30. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last month appointed Beckley health care administrator Karen Bowling as DHHR secretary, effective July 1.

Commissioners will vote Thursday whether to grant exemptions to Fucillo and eight other state employees, including former Tomblin chief of staff Rob Alsop.

Joan Parker, the commission's executive director, said Wednesday she has granted temporary, 45-day exemptions to all nine people, allowing them to begin pursuing private sector employment pending the commission's formal approval.

Parker said, like most requests, Fucillo's letter to the Ethics Commission is not specific about possible employment options.

"He just says he requests permission to explore opportunities in the private sector," she said.

Under state ethics law, a public official or employee may not seek employment with a regulated business or company, or a business that has contracts with the agency, for one year after leaving government employment.

Without the exemptions, employees of certain agencies, such as the Governor's Office or the Tax Department, would be unable to seek any employment with any private-sector business in the state for one year.

In Fucillo's case, the exemption is needed to seek employment with any health-care-related business operating in the state.

Fucillo had previously served as staff counsel for DHHR, and as commissioner of the Bureau of Children and Families.

In announcing Bowling's appointment, Tomblin officials indicated that Fucillo would be reassigned to an unspecified position within DHHR.

Fucillo's tenure as acting secretary has been turbulent, marked by a pending whistleblower lawsuit filed against him and the DHHR after he placed staff attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor, and communications director John Law on extended administrative leave for issues involving the awarding of a multimillion-dollar department advertising contract. Fucillo subsequently fired Taylor and Law, and reassigned Perry.

A legislative audit in 2012 uncovered numerous problems with the bidding and awarding of department contracts, including a major contract for a central computer system that had to be re-bid twice.

Earlier this year, an independent audit commissioned by the Tomblin administration recommended a major overhaul of the 6,000-employee department, citing an "unstable work environment" in the many agencies under DHHR.

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


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