CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a rare move, the state Ethics Commission on Thursday authorized Executive Director Joan Parker to actively oppose a bill before the Legislature that would create an exemption to the prohibition on public officials having private interests in public contracts.
However, commissioners decided not to take a position on at least six other bills in the Legislature dealing with the Ethics Act -- including several to require lobbyists to disclose their compensation.
Their concern is over a bill (SB365) that originated in Senate Government Organization Committee on Jan. 22 to allow county conservation district supervisors an exception to the prohibition on having private interest in public contracts in order to obtain state conservation agency program grants.
"It would be a blanket exemption, without any demonstration of hardship or need," Parker said.
The legislation would also effectively overturn a recent Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion denying such an exemption to the private interest in public contracts prohibition. In that decision, the commission stated it would continue to require case-by-case review of requests for exemptions.
By law, conservation district supervisors must be landowners and active farmers, and are frequently eligible for conservation agency grants.
"We've already taken a position: We told them no," said Commission Chairman Kemp Morton.
"The issue is, does this body want you to go and actually oppose this bill?" Commissioner Betty Ireland said to Parker. "Personally, I'd like you to do that."