Help Is Wanted In State Government

Last week, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced the appointment of John Myers, the secretary of the state Department of Administration, as the new director of the West Virginia Lottery.

This is not a new role for Myers, who served as an interim lottery director earlier this decade and was formerly a lottery staffer.

It’s about the best decision that Justice could have made under the circumstances, considering that Doug Buffington — a deputy secretary of the Department of Revenue and acting lottery director since former lottery director Alan Larrick resigned Aug. 31 — badly botched a presentation before the Joint Standing Committee on Finance last Monday.

It’s not Buffington’s fault, he just wasn’t ready for primetime. Lawmakers wanted to know why Larrick resigned and they also wanted to know what happened to Danielle Boyd, lottery’s young and intelligent general counsel. Some said she was fired. Revenue officials said she was still an employee, though they wouldn’t give any more details.

Neither Buffington nor Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy could answer specific questions. Hardy admitted that the Department of Revenue — which oversees lottery — only found out about the resignation of Larrick from a phone call the same afternoon the news came out.

That phone call, by the way, was me talking to Kathy Torlone, Hardy’s executive assistant 10 minutes before the governor’s office sent out the press release announcing Larrick’s resignation.

Of most concern to lawmakers during the legislative meeting was whether the governor was working to bypass the will of the Legislature and work with major sports leagues to carve out integrity fees to be paid to the leagues. Both Buffington and Hardy were mum, even though there have been draft rules floating around that appear to create a bridge towards implementing integrity fees in the future.

Maybe John Myers can get to the bottom of what’s going on.

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With Myers transitioning back to lottery, this make two super secretary positions without permanent leaders. I’ve written plenty about the state Department Of Commerce. But the Department of Administration is far larger, with 16 different agencies answering to it.

Some of these include: The Real Estate Division, the Public Employees Insurance Agency, the Ethics Commission, the Public Employees Grievance Board and the General Services Division.

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait as long as we’re waiting for a commerce secretary replacement.

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It’s no secret that Acting Commerce Secretary Clayton Burch is still an assistant superintendent of schools, but apparently he’s doing that job more than he is doing the job of managing commerce until Justice names a permanent secretary.

It begs the question: why was Burch named acting secretary in the first place? I’m told I can easily find him at school board meetings. Perhaps I’ll introduce myself since I couldn’t arrange for an interview.

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Now add Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health under the state Department of Health and Human Resources, to list of people leaving high profile positions in the state government. He is taking a job with the March of Dimes.

That news, combined with one of his deputy commissioners looking for other employment and the Office of Drug Control Policy unable to keep a permanent director, and you have a real problem. BPH is the agency that manages ODCP. With no commissioner and no director, who is working on strategies to fight opioid abuse, heroin use and the return of meth to the state?

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Back to the Department of Administration again, they had to cancel a project to repair the Capitol dome. Wiseman Construction, the low bidder, couldn’t guarantee their outside scaffolding wouldn’t touch the dome as the department requited in the bid.

“After extensive discussion over several months, it has been determined that the method offered by Wiseman Construction through their submittals relating to the assembly of the exterior scaffolding could not meet the specifications in the contract,” said spokesperson Diane Holley-Brown.

The department is working with the second lowest bidder, Pullman Structural Group. Add this to the fact that the Department of Commerce had to re-bid construction contracts for the RISE West Virginia flood recover program, or the Department of Transportation having to re-bid the bridge maintenance project on Interstate 70 in Ohio County, and you get a pattern.

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I don’t write all of that to be a negative Nancy. I write about the good news, too, and would much rather do that. But the Justice administration makes it hard to do. I don’t want to be added to the scolding list, but these are real issues and it needs to be asked: Who is steering the ship of state?

Is it the governor from a flip phone in Lewisburg? Is it a part-time minimum wage employee and former TV media mogul?

The state Supreme Court of Appeals will determine if Justice is following the constitution by running the government by proxy through an outdated cell phone more than 100 miles away from where his government is. But if he worked out of his office for five days straight, I have to imagine he would see all of this I’ve pointed out and conclude that what he is doing isn’t working.

Yes, the state’s tax revenue is good, and yes, the state’s economy is getting better, but that doesn’t mean the press can ignore the chaos that is apparent in the executive branch.

Let’s put out the “Help Wanted” ads and get these positions filled and return some certainty to state government.

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