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WV Development Office seeks exemption to sponsor Greenbrier Classic


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Vva. — A special meeting of the West Virginia Ethics Commission is set for Monday to consider a request from the state Development Office for a contract exemption for it to still be a sponsor of the Greenbrier Classic PGA tournament.

Since The Greenbrier resort landed the PGA Tour stop in 2010, the Development Office has been a title sponsor of the tournament, paying the nonprofit charity that operates the tournament between $1 million and $1.75 million a year for the rights.

According to a meeting notice filed Tuesday, the Ethics Commission has scheduled the 10 a.m. meeting to consider the Development Office’s request for a contract exemption to enter into a contract with Old White Charities “to sponsor the cost of travel-related expenses to the Greenbrier Classic, including lodging and other expenses at The Greenbrier for certain CEOs, high-level executives, national site-selection consultants, and industry leaders for purposes of economic development.”

The Greenbrier resort is owned by Gov. Jim Justice and is among several-dozen business interests the governor has yet to place into blind trusts.

Under the state Ethics Act, public officials are prohibited from having private interest in public contracts.

However, the law says state agencies may seek contract exemptions to enter into contracts that would otherwise be barred under the law if denial of the contract would cause “excessive cost, undue hardship or other substantial interference with the operation of the public agency.”

Multiple calls to the Development Office and the Department of Commerce were not returned Tuesday.

This year’s Greenbrier Classic is July 3-9.

Under past sponsorship agreements, the Development Office has received a hospitality tent on the 18th hole of the Greenbrier Classic course, complimentary rooms in the hotel, tour badges, parking passes and other amenities.

At then-gubernatorial candidate Justice’s request, the Development Office did not seek a sponsorship for the 2016 Greenbrier Classic, a tournament that ultimately was canceled because of severe June 23 flooding that devastated parts of White Sulphur Springs, resulting in multiple fatalities and the closure of the resort for two weeks.

In the past, state officials have called the tournament sponsorship a valuable economic development tool that allows unprecedented access to national and international business leaders who attend the it.

“From our development side, we’re able to bring in prospective clients from around the world. Last year, we had them from several countries in Europe; we had them from several countries in Asia and South America,” then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said during an interview at the 2014 Greenbrier Classic.

In March, the Ethics Commission 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.

At that meeting, Justice attorney Brian Helmick told commissioners that the remainder of the more than 100 companies Justice owns would be added to the blind trust over time, citing “complicated financial structures” that have to be worked out, including getting banks and institutions that have loans on the assets to sign off on each trust arrangement. Helmick said that included The Greenbrier resort.

“We are working on The Greenbrier. We are working on some of the financial issues there,” Helmick told commissioners during the March 2 meeting.

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