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WV lawmakers target water authority board pay


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would slash salaries of board members who oversee a state agency that handles financing for water and sewer projects in West Virginia.

The House Government Organization Committee voted unanimously to drop Water Development Authority members pay to about $150 a meeting. Board members now collect $12,000 a year to attend four meetings.

The committee revised the Senate’s version of the bill (SB172), which would have eliminated water board members’ pay entirely.

“This will basically bring in line this board with just about every other board in the state in terms of compensation,” said Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, after the House panel amended the Senate bill.

In June, a Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation revealed that a water authority board member hadn’t attended a board meeting since 2011, but the state paid him $58,300 for doing nothing during his nearly five-year absence. The board member’s term on the board officially expired in June 2012, but he stayed on the agency payroll until the same week the newspaper inquired about him receiving payments for missed meetings.

Chris Jarrett, the water authority’s executive director, said state law required that the board member be paid until the governor appointed a replacement.

A separate bill (HB 2841) — approved by the House last week and now under review in the Senate — would prohibit state agency board members to be paid for meetings they’ve missed.

“I totally agree people shouldnt get paid, if they don’t show up for work,” said Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion. “It’s that simple. We can’t justify that an individual receive $58 K and hasn’t shown up for meeting.”

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Jarrett defended water board members’ pay, saying they give up a lot of time reviewing water and sewer projects. Some board members have expertise in engineering and bond financing, he said.

“All of them are successful business people,” Jarrett told lawmakers. “Some are entrepreneurs. Some have worked for organizations for 30 or 40 years.”

Jarrett said it could become difficult to find people willing to serve on an unpaid board, especially those who live four or five hours away from Charleston.

The water board holds quarterly meetings, but sometimes meets up to seven times a year, he said.

State investigators have been scrutinizing the Water Development Authority’s spending and hiring practices in recent months. The agency issues bonds that fund water and sewer projects across West Virginia.

Last month, Gov. Jim Justice rescinded his appointment of former campaign advisor Larry Puccio to the Water Development Authority’s board of directors. Puccio said that he asked Justice to withdraw the appointment after learning that board members receive $12,000 a year to attend four meetings.

“I just don’t want to get on any board that’s paid,” Puccio said at the time. “They said you get paid $12,000 a year. I just don’t need that. I just don’t need those headaches.”

Board members now receive a $1,000 paycheck each month.

The bill next moves to the House floor.

See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail

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