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Statehouse Beat: Where the money's going

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Uncle Phil is not one to say I told you so; therefore, I won't belabor the point that I had long written in this space that nothing would come of the criminal investigation of Department of Health and Human Resources attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor, and now-ex communications director John Law.

The whole episode of Kanawha County prosecutor Mark Plants subpoenaing records that were already secured in locked offices within the DHHR headquarters was bizarre -- particularly since, unlike a normal subpoena, it was in the form of a multi-page narrative basically giving acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo's perspective on the controversy.

Likewise, when a subpoena is issued, a return of service is subsequently filed with the court, listing what documents and evidence were obtained. That never happened in this case.

Besides making Plants look bad, it blows up Fucillo's version of the story, that he had to intervene to prevent Perry, Taylor and Law from manipulating the awarding of DHHR's lucrative advertising and marketing contract.

Which gets us back to the premise that this is a case of a state agency executive overreacting to having his subordinates tell him his agency was once again botching the bidding of a state contract.

• • •

Speaking of DHHR, former delegate Virginia Mahan will be the department's new legislative liaison, beginning this session.

• • •

Statehouse lobbyists spent a total of $112,541 on public officials between September and December, with the vast majority of that amount in the form of campaign contributions to incumbents, according to the latest round of financial disclosures filed with the state Ethics Commission.

Candidate contributions accounted for $96,478 of that total, with totals ranging from $11,950 by Christina Cameron, who lobbies for tobacco and gaming entities, down to $80 apiece by Mountain State Justice's David McMahon and West Virginia Citizen Action Group's Gary Zuckett.

Other big contributors were: Paul Hardesty, $7,850; Ronald Hayhurst, $7,750; Nelson Robinson, $4,000; Tom Susman, $2,500; Larry Swann, $3,250; Steve White, $2,750; and Gary White, $3,500.

With the final reporting period, that brings overall lobbyist spending for the 2012 calendar year to a grand total of $566,783. That's up $87,075 over lobbyist expenditures for 2011.

• • •

The West Virginia Coal Association expanded its relatively new tradition of giving out holiday fruit baskets, according to Bill Raney's lobbyist disclosure.

This Christmas, the Coal Association distributed 37 fruit baskets, ranging in cost from $60.41 to $87.93 (the big basket went to Protective Services at the Capitol complex...) for a total cost of $2,318.59.

Besides baskets for the governor's office, offices of House and Senate leadership, five baskets for Department of Environmental Protection offices, and other state regulatory agencies, the association sent baskets to the offices of the president and athletic director at Marshall and West Virginia University.

• • •

Speaking of the Ethics Commission, Mike Teets, newly appointed director of the Department of Agriculture's eastern operations in Moorefield, plans to also continue to serve as president of the Hardy County Commission.

Though there's not been a specific Ethics Commission advisory opinion addressing whether a county commissioner can also serve as a full-time state employee, related decisions suggest it's OK by them.

The most recent applicable decision dates back to Jan. 10, when Charleston City Councilman Chris Dodrill asked whether anything in the Ethics Act would prohibit him from continuing to serve on council after accepting a position as assistant attorney general.

The advisory opinion indicated the arrangement is acceptable under ethics law, with the usual provisos about not performing city council duties on state time, etc.

"It basically says the Ethics Act doesn't impose a flat-out ban on public employees serving as elected officials," said Theresa Kirk, Ethics Commission executive director.

While the Ethics Commission is fine with the arrangement, I understand some of Teets' constituents in Hardy County aren't keen knowing that he'll be drawing a $81,500 salary from the state, as well as just over $35,000 a year as a part-time county commissioner.

One reader from Hardy County told me "every street corner is buzzing" about the double-dipping, and said it speaks poorly for both Teets and his new boss, Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick.

In a county with a per-capita income of just over $19,000, Teets' combined salary of more than $117,000 does seem a bit extravagant.

• • •

Finally, speaking of Teets, a reader sent along the excerpt from the July 7 Economist magazine article, "What's Eating Appalachian -- Many Democrats in the Region Seem to Hate Their President," in which Teets offered his theories on why President Obama is unpopular in Appalachia:

"Mike Teets, the only Republican on the Hardy County Commission, denies that race has anything to do with local antipathy towards Mr. Obama. But he is concerned that the president may be a Muslim, secretly in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, whose killing he could have faked. He also wonders whether the president might be gay. Wild accusations like these, Mr. Obama's supporters maintain, stem from sublimated racism."

Now, as then, I would give Teets the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was trying to pull one over on the big-city reporter, by feeding him all the outrageous lines the reporter was hoping to hear during his visit to the hinterlands.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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