By PHIL KABLER
Billionaire Gov. Jim Justice’s assets — or at least a portion of them — are in a blind trust, following approval Thursday by the West Virginia Ethics Commission.
Commissioners unanimously approved a blind trust agreement for Justice’s interest in companies that operate the Glade Springs resort, near Beckley, and Wintergreen ski resort, in Virginia.
That’s only a portion of the more than 100 businesses and companies Justice listed on his most recent financial disclosure to the commission.
Justice attorney Brian Helmick told commissioners those entities will be added to the blind trust over time, as what he called “complicated financial structures” are worked out, including getting banks and institutions that have loans on the assets to sign off on the trust arrangement.
He said that includes what is perhaps Justice’s best-known asset, The Greenbrier resort, in White Sulphur Springs.
“We are working on The Greenbrier. We are working on some of the financial issues there,” Helmick said.
“We may be with you for the next few months,” he told the commission of ongoing additions to the blind trust.
Helmick said Justice has directed his Cabinet secretaries and department heads not to enter into contracts or do business with any of his business entities until they have been placed into the blind trust.
Justice resigned as an officer or director of all the companies before taking office, Helmick said. Justice named his daughter, Jill, president of The Greenbrier, and announced that his son, Jay, would oversee his coal and agriculture enterprises.
The trust precludes Justice and his wife, Cathy, from having any direct or indirect communication with trustee Howard Burnette regarding assets in the blind trust, except for receipt of an annual report on income earned from assets in the trust for purposes of filing income tax returns.
The trust gives Burnette exclusive management control over the assets, including authority to sell or otherwise dispose of assets.
Commissioner Betty Ireland questioned whether Justice is allowed to discuss businesses with his children, using a hypothetical dinner conversation to the effect of, “Gee, Dad, we only had 300 rooms filled this weekend.”
Ireland added, “The public will be asking these questions. To the extent we can be helpful up front, we should be helpful.”
The blind trust was the second the commission has approved in as many months. In February, it authorized Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher to place his engineering and architecture firm, and multiple real estate and land holdings, into a blind trust.
Also Thursday, the Ethics Commission:
Ruled that a would-be candidate for county commissioner in a small rural county could not continue to work as director of a small municipal library, if elected, since the library receives funding equal to about 7 percent of its annual budget from the commission.
Conversely, commissioners reluctantly approved a hardship exemption to allow Clay County emergency services agencies to continue to use a wrecker service owned by new Clay County Commissioner Fran King.
In its request for the exemption, the County Commission stated that it would be a hardship if agencies cannot use King’s company, which is the only wrecker service in the county.
Ireland said King should have sought guidance from the Ethics Commission before running for office.
“It would have been so much better for this person to have said, ‘Can I run for county commission when I own the only wrecker service in the county?’ ” said Ireland, who added that the commission should not be inclined to extend the hardship exemption when it expires in one year.
Ruled that Legislative Manager Aaron Allred and directors of the 12 legislative divisions under his supervision are not required to file annual financial disclosures with the Ethics Commission.
Commissioners concluded that the Ethics Act’s requirement for Cabinet secretaries, commissioners, department heads and other high-ranking administrators to file disclosures applies only to executive branch offices.
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