W.Va. official’s support of contractor out of line

An editorial from The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Public officials who have a cloudy understanding about how cozy relationships can raise questions of impropriety should take a lesson from the case of a West Virginia official.

Joe Gonzalez, communications director at the state Office of Emergency Medical Services, has been fined by the West Virginia Ethics Commission for appearing in an online promotional video singing the praises of a California company that sold $27 million worth of radio equipment to state government. The fine totaled $525, plus Gonzalez was ordered to stop participating in company promotions and attend ethics training.

The company involved, Aviat Network, sold equipment that was attached to microwave towers in the state’s emergency communications network. The purchase was part of a $33 million microwave tower project that was funded by federal economic stimulus funds — a project that Gonzalez helped manage for three years.

In March 2013, a company representative asked Gonzalez to speak on camera while at the International Wireless Communications Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. The result was a video in which Gonzalez said, in part, “Aviat truly wants to make the system work, and they want it to work well … . It’s not about let’s sell radios and make a few bucks, come in and leave town.” He also commented that “It’s been a full teamwork project, and we’re very satisfied with Aviat,” according to a report by The Charleston Gazette.

The video stands in sharp conflict with Ethics Commission policy and rulings that public officials shouldn’t endorse products or companies or appear in video testimonials or ads. There’s good reason for that prohibition…

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