WV official’s ethics lapse intolerable

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Jim Rubenstein has been around state government, in positions of authority, long enough to understand conflicts of interest. He needs to be held accountable for engaging in a big one.

Rubenstein, who took his first state government administrative job in 1994, has moved up steadily. Since 2001, he has served as West Virginia commissioner of corrections.

For about four years, ending in July 2015, Rubenstein had free use of an apartment in Charleston, courtesy of the president and CEO of PsiMed, according to a published report. During that time, PsiMed was paid more than $7.5 million by the state for providing mental health services at the very state prisons Rubenstein supervises.

That is a clear, blatant conflict of interest, so much so that the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney’s office investigated the situation. The probe came to an end when the matter was referred to the state Ethics Commission.

Another matter being looked at by the agency is an expense reimbursement Rubenstein received in 2015, for $138 to cover the cost of a one-night stay at a hotel in Charleston.

Also according to a published report, an executive secretary in the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety questioned the propriety of such a request. Rubenstein withdrew it — then resubmitted it by having a deputy corrections commissioner approve the payment.

These are serious allegations. In a state where corruption in government has been a regular occurrence, they come as no surprise.

Most state employees and officials are conscientious about ethics, to the point we know of some who make it a point to pay for their own lunches when dining with people outside government. They feel accepting even a free sandwich or salad is to be avoided, for appearances’ sake.

What Rubenstein received, thousands of dollars’ worth of free lodging, was a different story.

Whether he had anything to do with PsiMed’s state contracts or not, Rubenstein was wrong to accept use of the apartment from the company’s head.

If the case against him is as clear as it appears, the Ethics Commission should take decisive action — and that does not mean fines and/or reprimands. It means demanding Rubenstein’s resignation, too.

See more from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. 

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