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For first time in years, Ethics Commission full

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the first time in years, Thursday's meeting of the state Ethics Commission had a full complement of 12 commissioners participating, as the governor's office filled long-standing vacancies on the commission.

Since the November meeting, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed former secretary of state Betty Ireland, former state senator Marie Redd, and Suzan Singleton of Moundsville, an official with the West Virginia Municipal League, as commissioners.

"It's the first time since I've been here that we have had 12 commissioners participate in a meeting," said Joan Parker, commission executive director.

Parker, who was named executive director in February, has been with the Ethics Commission since 2006.

Singleton's appointment meant that longtime commissioner Jon Turak, whose term actually expired in 2009, was able to step down.

Ireland, who became the first woman elected to a statewide executive branch office in 2004, has been active in Republican politics, most recently running in the 2011 special election for governor.

Redd became the first black woman elected to the state Senate with her victory in 1998. She lost a re-election bid in 2002, losing to Evan Jenkins in the Democratic primary election.

In hopes of eliminating future problems with vacancies on the commission, commissioners Thursday approved draft legislation that would simplify the composition of the 12-member panel.

As currently configured, two members of the commission must be former state legislators, two must have been full-time elected or appointed officers in state government, and two must have been members of a state, county or municipal board or public service commission.

The draft bill would reduce those required classifications from two to one member each, and would expand from four to seven the number of members from the public at large.

Other membership requirements would remain the same, including having no more than seven members of the same political party, and no more than four members from one congressional district.

The legislation will be proposed for consideration during the 2014 legislative session.

Also at Thursday's Ethics Commission meeting:

• Commissioners approved an advisory opinion sharply limiting the ability of commercial supervisors in county assessors' offices to own, sell or lease commercial property in the county in which they work.

The ruling concludes such people may not own, lease or sell commercial properties in their counties, may not participate in public auctions of commercial properties, and may lease residential properties in the county only if they have taken no regulatory action on the properties.

The request for an advisory opinion was prompted by allegations made on a now-defunct radio show against Steve Duffield, commercial property supervisor in the Kanawha County Assessor's Office, alleging Duffield undervalued assessments on about 30 rental properties he owns.

Duffield's attorney has denied the allegations, calling them "talk-radio crap."

• Thursday's meeting of the commission and of its Open Government Committee were in violation of the state's Open Meetings Act, since commission staff failed to post notice of the meetings on the online State Register.

That means commissioners will have to re-do votes on all actions taken Thursday when the commission next meets in February.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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