Corruption still blatant in West Virginia

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — No wonder West Virginia continues to be viewed as one of the most politically corrupt states in the union. Blatantly rotten practices by government officials continue to surface regularly.

Just a few days ago, the state Ethics Commission approved an agreement to settle a nepotism case with Raleigh County Assessor Drema Bias Evans.

A few years ago, Evans had to fill some vacancies in her office staff. So she hired her son and her grandson, then handed out lavish “merit” pay raises to the son. He received $7,000 in raises between June 2010 and January 2012, and now is the highest-paid of the assessor’s office’s 26 employees.

In addition, the complaint against Evans indicates she demonstrated favoritism toward her relatives. Part of the allegations against her was that her grandson continued to be paid despite the fact that at times, he “cannot be accounted for during the workday or multiple workdays .,.”

Evans insisted she asked the Ethics Commission about hiring her relatives and consulted an attorney before proceeding. She also noted a subordinate in the assessor’s office was involved in the hiring process.

One wonders how long it took the subordinate to come to the conclusion he or she had better go along with what the boss wanted.

State law specifically bans public officials from being involved directly in decisions about hiring relatives or giving them pay raises. Yet Evans went ahead.

She is being fined $7,500 and no longer can be involved in job decisions involving her son and grandson. Given the history of county officials covering each others’ backs in West Virginia courthouses, it will be interesting to see how the situation plays out.

Evans’ case is just one of many clear cases of ethics violations the commission handles each year. Obviously, many officials continue to abuse the public’s trust because they think they can get away with it.

When they are called to account by the commission, it is only for specific misbehavior cited in outside complaints against them. That raises the question of what other outrageous abuses are being committed.

If state legislators can come up with a few million unneeded dollars in next year’s budget, they would do well to hand it to the Ethics Commission – along with a statute giving the agency authority to expand investigations into public corruption.

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