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Editorial: W.Va. Ethics Commission right on conflict of interest

From The Inter-Mountain of Elkins:  

West Virginia is full of small towns and counties in which it can be difficult for public officials to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.

Sometimes, the best person for a local government job may be related to a municipal or county official. Sometimes, the best, cheapest way to obtain a good or service is from a store owned by a mayor, city council member or county commissioner.

But Mountain State residents have seen too many times bid requests rigged to favor officials’ friends or relatives. We have watched too often as nepotism ruled the hiring process, while better qualified people were passed over.

We are rightly suspicious of any appearance of conflicting interests.

Good for the state Ethics Commission for taking firm stands on two recent questions about conflicts.

One case involved Hancock County, where the sheriff’s office had requested permission to have its cruisers cleaned at a car wash owned by County Commissioner Jeff Davis.

It was pointed out that the only other car wash in the county required 30 minutes’ more in travel time to have cruisers washed. That would make using it more expensive because of gasoline, wear and tear on cruisers and travel time, it was noted.

Ethics commissioners were having none of it. They pointed out that sheriff’s cruisers patrol the entire county — meaning they often are in close proximity to the other car wash. So, they ruled, there will be no exemption from the conflict of interest ban on using the commissioner’s car wash.

In another case, from Hardy County, the sheriff there wanted to purchase some emergency lights from a business operated by one of his deputies. The deputy’s business submitted the low bid, of $4,869.

But the next lowest bid was just $365 more, Ethics Commission staffers pointed out. Commission members refused to provide the conflict of interest exemption sought by the sheriff, because of the deputy’s ability to influence the process.

In both situations, local sheriffs appear to have been trying to save their counties a few dollars. There appears to be no reason to suspect anyone involved was attempting to pull a fast one.

Still, the Ethics Commission was right to take a strict view of the situations. Our long, sordid history of corruption in West Virginia requires that to bolster trust in local officials

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