The state Ethics Commission mostly took House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta at his word when the panel dismissed two ethics complaints against him last week.
But public documents contradict Mezzatesta's statements to the commission and the reasons agency officials gave for abruptly ending an investigation.
Ethics Commission officials, for instance, concluded that Mezzatesta could legally collect two taxpayer-funded paychecks at the same time because he continues to work as a "community specialist/grant writer" for Hampshire County schools while attending legislative sessions.
Records show, however, that Mezzatesta takes paid "professional leave" from his Hampshire board office job when he attends legislative sessions.
Mezzatesta has taken at least 65 paid professional leave days since July and 70 days the previous year - about one of every three days he's supposed to be at work, according to documents obtained by the Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act.
School employees normally take such leave to attend conferences and seminars.
"We have no records he took professional leave," Lew Brewer, Ethics Commission executive director, said Monday. "We were told something different. He says he's still working while he's in the Legislature."
Those who filed the ethics complaints said Monday that Mezzatesta's decision to take paid professional leave shows that he wasn't working two separate jobs - only getting paid twice for the same work.
"If he's doing both jobs, why would he need to take professional leave?" said Tifney Terry, a former Kanawha County school board candidate who filed a complaint against Mezzatesta. "If you're taking professional leave, you're not doing your job."
The commission hired a $40-per-hour retired Internal Revenue Service agent to conduct the Mezzatesta investigation. The investigator, John Weaver, drove to Hampshire County during the probe, but apparently didn't retrieve Mezzatesta's pay records.
Brewer said Monday he would not reopen the investigation.
"Taking professional leave isn't prohibited by the ethics law," Brewer said. "We have no authority to second-guess when he's allowed to take leave."
Mezzatesta praised the Ethics Commission's decision Monday.
"I am confident the commission looked into every corner of the code in both ethical as well as legal terms in the investigation which found that I did nothing wrong," he said in a news release. "I am not surprised with the decision because I have always conducted my legislative and other professional activities in a manner consistent with the law and in the highest professional standards."
Mezzatesta gets about $60,000 a year as a community specialist/grant writer, and another $24,000 in legislative pay.
No other West Virginia school employee who also serves in the Legislature collects two paychecks simultaneously. Nor do the school employees/legislators take paid professional leave during legislative sessions. They take unpaid leave.
Last week, the Ethics Commission also dismissed a second complaint that accused Mezzatesta of improperly soliciting grants from the state Department of Education.