Statehouse beat: DHHR trial would be a hoot
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If it ever gets to trial, the whistleblower suit by former Department of Health and Human Resources executives Jennifer Taylor and Susan Perry against former acting DHHR secretary Rocco Fucillo could be a humdinger, judging by the witness list submitted by the plaintiffs.
Potential witnesses who may be called to testify include top officials in the governor's office, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin himself, along with chief of staff Charles Lorensen, chief counsel Peter Markham, and former chief of staff Rob Alsop.
(You may recall it came out in depositions that Perry, who continued to do cubicle work at DHHR for several months after Taylor and communications director John Law were fired, was fired not by Fucillo, but by Markham.
That apparently was at the behest of incoming DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling, who requested a clean slate upon taking office, including shipping Fucillo off to Fairmont, and came after Perry turned down an offer to be legal counsel in another state agency.)
The witness list also includes former Tomblin deputy chief of staff Erica Mani. (Taylor went to Mani to raise concerns of improprieties in scoring bid packages for the lucrative contract for DHHR advertising). It also includes current director of public policy Hallie Mason, for her general knowledge of the state bidding process and awarding of government contracts.
State Purchasing Division Director Dave Tincher is also on the witness list.
In addition to the defendants in the suit -- Fucillo, deputy DHHR secretary Warren Keefer and DHHR purchasing director Bryan Rosen, the list includes a number of current and former DHHR staff, including Marsha Dadisman, who was chairwoman of the RFP review committee, Inspector General David Bishop, and Human Resources Director Harold Clifton.
Mark Polen, formerly with the Arnold Agency -- the firm that lost the DHHR advertising contract -- is on the list to testify that Christy Margolin from Falghren Mortine stated in May, 2012 that the company won the contract (which wasn't actually awarded until that July), and that he was advised by representatives in the governor's office not to protest the bid process.
Also, several DHHR officials are listed to testify basically as character witnesses, regarding Perry and Taylor's roles in advising on proper handling of contracts.
They include former secretary Paul Nusbaum, former deputy secretary Shana Phares and former general counsel Marsha Morris, as well as current treasurer's office counsel Diana Stout.
Coming back from Washington last Sunday, I picked up a Washington Post at Union Station, and at about Culpeper came across a timely Dr. Gridlock column entitled, "Death, taxes and perhaps someday, tolls."
He starts out: "Some people who study transportation problems are thinking about the unthinkable: Tolling lanes that are now untolled."
The column notes that the Reason Foundation, a conservative/libertarian think tank, has proposed putting tolls on interstates around the U.S. as an alternative to raising gas taxes or imposing new taxes and fees to fund road maintenance and construction.
The sticking point is that Congress would have to liberalize laws that make it very difficult to put tolls on existing interstate highways.
As for the frequently asked question, "Didn't we already pay for these roads?" Dr. Gridlock cites Patrick D. Jones, executive director of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, who at presentations uses a visual prop of a bag of ice he had paid for earlier in the day, the problem being that by the time he gives his presentation, it has deteriorated into a bag of water.
Locally, if the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways' logic for keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike is so that out-of-state travelers will bear the brunt of costs for state road construction and maintenance, then it would make sense to also toll Interstate 81 in the Eastern Panhandle and Interstate 70 in the Northern Panhandle, if Congress ever permits.
Finally, reporters covering the latest round of Mingo County corruption have complained that the usually loquacious Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, has declined to comment on anything dealing with the investigations.
It's well known that Chafin has been at odds with Judge Michael Thornsbury for better than a decade, and on numerous occasions has introduced or tried to amend legislation to add a second judge in that circuit.
While he's not talking to the press, Chafin continues to distribute a monthly column, "Under the Capitol Dome," with the latest installment Thursday again making no mention of goings-on in Mingo. (Although he did have an interesting tidbit, wishing Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, a speedy recovery following emergency gallbladder surgery.)
Meanwhile, I can't help but think of former Daily Mail political editor Richard Grimes portraying Chafin in a Third House skit in the early 1990s, wearing a white suit and declaring, "They got him, but they didn't get me, because I'm clean, I'm clean, I'm clean."
(That was in reference to a prior Mingo corruption investigation, leading to Johnie Owens' conviction for selling the sheriff's office for $100,000.)
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.