CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was no secret during the 2012 election that retiring Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass was not too keen about the possibility of then-Sen. Walt Helmick replacing him.
Douglass may be gone, but he's still bedeviling new Commissioner Helmick.
One of the first bills to come across Helmick's desk was from Embassy Suites for $8,023 for a reception back in November that was billed as a Celebration of Agriculture, but was really a retirement party for Douglass.
Helmick has refused to pay the bill -- it shows up on the auditor's website as "rejected, returning per agency request."
Helmick is miffed that the department staged the taxpayer-funded party, despite getting advice from the Ethics Commission that they could not use state funds, and after being turned down by the governor's office for contingency funds to hold the party. (The governor's office reportedly offered the use of the Culture Center for the event, but got a thanks-but-no-thanks.)
If Helmick sticks to his guns, Embassy Suites will probably have to go to the state Court of Claims to try to get payment. Of course, it's not like they'll go bankrupt: Since its opening, the Charleston hotel has done $9.06 million in business with the state, including $6.88 million paid by the Department of Education for various teacher training seminars.
Perhaps as befuddling as the abrupt firing of General Services Division Director David Oliverio was the meeting called of all General Services employees to notify them of Oliverio's departure.
All 100-some GSD employees were called in to Charleston -- some from as far away as Weirton -- for what was described as a five- to seven-minute presentation by Administration Secretary Ross Taylor to say that Oliverio was out, that Taylor wanted GSD to "go in a different direction," and then saying he would not take questions.
Many participants thought it was a waste of work hours and mileage for the travel.
Deputy Secretary Cedric Greene is temporarily working out of Oliverio's office, but does not have the title of acting director.
Although much has been written about how Oliverio straightened out a division that had been hit by numerous scandals and made significant upgrades to a Capitol Complex whose buildings had been subjected to years of deferred maintenance, it should also be noted that, unlike his predecessors, Oliverio actually had a background in physical plant maintenance.
(Too often in the past, when a new governor took office, the position was a place to put whichever campaign supporter had the least discernable management skills.)
Shortly after Oliverio took over the position, the Capitol grounds were torn up with ditches to run lines from the chiller plant to the Capitol and other buildings on campus.