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Justice reports he’s no longer CEO of resort in filing, questions remain

By ANDREW BROWN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice is reporting that he is no longer CEO and chairman of the Greenbrier Hotel Corporation and that his wife has been added as an “operations advisor” for the luxury resort.

That finding is part of the latest financial disclosure report filed by West Virginia’s new billionaire governor this week, as he continues to brush off questions about how his private businesses and stock holdings will interact with his new elected office.

The move has not been made official by the Secretary of State’s Office, but Mike Queen, the office’s chief of staff, says he expects the leadership change would be reflected on The Greenbrier’s 2017 annual report that is due soon.

But even if the necessary paperwork is filed, the removal of Justice’s name as an executive doesn’t distance the governor from pending conflicts with his resort under state law.

Ethics attorneys have said that the possibility of conflicts will continue as long as Justice or his immediate family continue to have an ownership interest in businesses that interact with the state government he is now running.

Justice’s wife, Cathy, is now an adviser for The Greenbrier. He’s reportedly appointing his daughter to run all of his resorts and hospitality operations. And his son is expected to take over his coal operations, including the remaining surface mines that are operating in the state.

Grant Herring, the governor’s spokesperson, did not respond to questions about the financial disclosure report.

On Tuesday, Justice used social media and the governor’s website to release a letter about his businesses and pending conflicts of interest to state employees.

In the letter, Justice provided no new details of how he will ensure that the interests of his resorts, coal companies and publicly-traded shares, which include companies doing business in West Virginia, don’t conflict with his new office.

His answer instead was to tell state employees that they should not give his companies “any special consideration or favoritism,” and that people should voluntarily report any conflict up the chain of command, which ultimately ends at his office.

The governor reiterated previous remarks about his hope of setting up a blind trust, which would put his finances and businesses into the hands of a third party that would be able to liquidate those assets.

Justice again said that has been held up by the “multitude of financial institutions” that his companies work with, and he remained adamant that he wasn’t going to divest from his businesses — the only way that ethics attorneys say he could avoid all possible conflicts.

According to Justice’s financial report, Justice’s coal operations, which he featured regularly in his campaign ads, don’t provide more than 20 percent of his income. The same was true in his financial disclosure report in 2016.

The governor only lists “hospitality” and “banks, savings and loan associations” as making up more than 20 percent of his annual income.

According to the governor’s list of business interests, he increased the number of companies he is involved in between his 2016 and 2017 report.

In 2016, he listed around 97 companies, incorporations and limited liability holdings. In the latest report, that number is up to roughly 115, including the addition of companies related to the Wintergreen Resort in Virginia.

The report also lists state agencies that continued to use his Greenbrier and Glade Springs resorts for conferences and retreats in 2016.

Justice has not addressed whether state agencies will continue to frequent his resorts now that he has been sworn in. He has not said whether his resorts will continue to get matching advertising revenue from the Division of Tourism or be credited for tourism tax credits by the Department of Revenue. He has not talked about how state agencies will regulate his casino and coal mines.

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