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WV water agency chief fired whistle blower amid ethics probe, suit alleges

By ERIC EYRE

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former manager at the West Virginia Water Development Authority has sued the agency, alleging he was fired after he blew the whistle on ethical misconduct at the office.

Michael Duminiak, a geographic information systems (GIS) manager at the water authority, said the agency’s then-executive director, Chris Jarrett, dismissed him on May 10 because Duminiak had filed an ethics complaint against Jarrett the previous year, according to a lawsuit filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court. Such retaliation violates the state’s whistleblower law, the suit alleges.

Two weeks after Duminiak was fired, the state Ethics Commission ordered Jarrett to pay $4,500 in fines and restitution after he admitted storing 12 pieces of personal furniture — desks, credenzas, chairs, a couch and conference table — in a storage room at the water authority’s office building for three years. Jarrett removed the furniture, but only after the Ethics Commission notified him that he was under investigation.

Jarrett, who led the agency for seven years, resigned under pressure in July.

Duminiak named the Water Development Authority and Jarrett as defendants in the lawsuit.

Jarrett initially suspended Duminiak in March. After telling Duminiak he was fired two months later, Jarrett summoned the State Capitol Police to the water authority building. An officer watched Duminiak pack his belongings and escorted him out of the building, causing him “great humiliation and embarrassment,” according to the lawsuit.

Under Jarrett’s watch, the agency had been embroiled in turmoil for nearly two years.

Last year, Jarrett ordered a wiretapping sweep of the water authority office amid allegations of secret recordings. Charleston police conducted the search for hidden listening devices at the agency’s building near Fazio’s Italian Restaurant on Bullitt Street. No wiretaps were found, according to agency employees.

The sweep followed multiple disputes between Jarrett and Duminiak.

In one spat, Jarrett ordered Duminiak to remove from his office wall a large Gadsden flag that depicts a coiled rattlesnake and the words “Don’t tread on me.” Jarrett called the flag a “disruption,” citing complaints from agency employees.

Duminiak initially balked at removing the flag, but did so after Jarrett warned that Duminiak was being insubordinate and would face “personnel action.”

Also in 2016, Duminiak filed a formal complaint with the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board, alleging that co-workers falsely accused him of calling authorities to remove feral cats from the water agency’s property on Bullitt Street, in Charleston. A hearing officer rejected Duminiak’s complaint, concluding that he failed to prove he was harassed and subjected to a “hostile work environment.”

The state Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations has been scrutinizing the water authority’s spending and hiring practices over the past year. The investigation followed a Gazette-Mail report about the water authority hiring temporary workers and providing them with perks such as paid holidays, sick leave and the use of state-owned vehicles.

The water authority finances water and sewer projects across the state, overseeing more than $3.8 billion in funding.

Duminiak also has filed grievances over his suspension and firing. His lawsuit has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.

The water authority’s new director, Marie Prezioso, would not comment Monday.

Reach Eric Eyre at [email protected], 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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