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Editorial: Ethics violations are everywhere

From The Journal of Martinsburg: 


Storing 12 pieces of personal furniture in a room at the West Virginia Water Development Authority’s building may not have seemed like a big deal to the agency’s executive director, Chris Jarrett. He kept the furniture, including four large desks, a conference table and assorted other pieces, there for three years.

But the state Ethics Commission saw it differently, as well the watchdog agency should have. A few weeks ago, the commission reprimanded Jarrett. He agreed to pay a $2,000 fine and to reimburse the authority $2,500. It was reported this week that Jarrett will retire from his post July 27.

It should have been obvious to Jarrett that what he did was wrong. Most people with too many belongings have to dispose of some, find places to put them on their own property, or rent storage space. Jarrett removed his furniture only after learning an ethics complaint had been filed against him.

At about the same time, he had Charleston police check the authority’s offices for electronic eavesdropping devices. They found none.

A substantial number of ethics complaints against public officials involve behavior the subjects do not seem to have recognized was improper. One wonders what it is that they do not understand about using their positions for benefits not included in employment agreements.

Clearly, getting the ethics message through some West Virginia officials’ heads is going to take a long time — and quite a few examples being set of people such as Jarrett. Ethics commission members should keep up the good work, in the knowledge there seems to be plenty of it for them to do.

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