Strange days at the state Department of Health and Human Resources. One of the oddest Statehouse stories of the year was the double-secret suspensions/work reassignments of DHHR attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor and chief spokesman John Law.
The facts aren't really in dispute, that the three intervened to delay the awarding of a lucrative DHHR advertising contract.
As Perry and Taylor contend in their lawsuit against acting DHHR secretary Rocco Fucillo, the three were acting as whistleblowers, trying to avoid the latest in a pattern of screw-ups regarding bidding processes and awarding of contracts by DHHR. (To the extent that previous contracts had prompted an investigation by the state legislative auditor's office.)
Fucillo has alleged the three were attempting to rig the process in favor of one of the bidders, although DHHR investigators have yet to substantiate that claim.
On top of everything else, it came to light that Fucillo works primarily out of a DHHR satellite office in Fairmont and, until Gov. Tomblin put the kibosh on it, had been billing the state for commuting expenses, including meals and lodging for overnight stays in Charleston.
It's not sexy, and at the end of the day there are no ribbon-cuttings or giant cardboard checks to be awarded, but the major legislative accomplishment of 2012 was passage of a plan to pay down some $4 billion of costs for future health-care benefits for retired state and public school employees, otherwise known as the OPEB liability.
As the first state to resolve its OPEB funding issue, the state will see short-term benefits in high bond ratings. In the long-term, it means future Legislatures won't have to raise taxes or cut spending to come up with some $600 million a year to pay for retiree health care on a pay-as-you-go basis.
It also means that state and public school employees hired before July 1, 2010, can be reasonably certain they will have PEIA health insurance available to them when they retire.
Finally, the Tomblin administration wasn't kidding when it exercised a 30-day out clause to get out of a $24,500 lease for the party tent at the governor's mansion, a lease that originally extended to March 15, 2013.
With the last of the holiday parties on Dec. 15, workers from A-to-Z Rentals dismantled the 40- by 50-foot tent in the mansion courtyard on Wednesday.
Merry Christmas, and best wishes that, if nothing else, 2013 will be a year without elections for a change ...
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.