When West Virginia legislators started to ask questions about the Wheels-to-Work program last month, Human Resource Development Foundation executives struck back.
At a public legislative committee meeting at the state Capitol, they passed out information about welfare recipients who complained to the Sunday Gazette-Mail about the vehicles they received from the Wheels program.
The sheets provided details about missed lease payments, and alleged that program participants mistreated cars. Legislators and audience members got copies.
State-funded agencies are supposed to obtain written permission when they release names and details about participants, according to state law.
"If you read the code literally, it seems they violated the section," said Robert Bastress, a law professor at West Virginia University. "If I were their lawyer, my advice would have been, 'don't do it.'"
Homer Kincaid, the foundation's executive director, said his agency was responding to newspaper reports.
"We weren't the ones who put their names on the street first," he said. "The Wheels program did a lot of good for a lot of people."
The people who ran the Wheels program, and some mechanics and used-car dealers have blamed welfare recipients for program shortcomings. They say participants had bad driving skills, poor attitudes and "trashed" the vehicles.
"The type of people you're dealing with, they're a different class of people," said Danny Turley, who owned a transmission service that fixed Wheels cars for the Foundation. "They're not working-class people."
The state reviewed the four nonprofits that ran Wheels-to-Work programs. None of the reports mention that welfare recipients mistreated vehicles.
The auditors never interviewed participants. No one tracked which cars were sent to the junkyard because of misuse and which were lemons.