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The Charleston Gazette, W.Va., Phil Kabler column: DOH-owned property draws attention from the feds [The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.]
[August 30, 2009]

The Charleston Gazette, W.Va., Phil Kabler column: DOH-owned property draws attention from the feds [The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.]

(Charleston Gazette, The (WV) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 30--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal authorities have been showing up at the Division of Highways with subpoenas in hand -- all directed at the Right-of-Way Division.

Highways general counsel Tony Halkias confirmed that one subpoena was for the lease agreement and other documents regarding property in Stollings, Logan County, where the Mecca Drive Inn is located.

Highways acquired that and other right of way along W.Va. 17 with the intent of doing an expansion project that has yet to come to fruition, Halkias said.

As owners of the property, Highways had to negotiate a lease agreement with Mecca operator Devonah Blevins.

Presumably, the U.S. Attorney's Office's interest is because Mecca is a limited video lottery retail location, with its five video slot machines provided by Southern Amusement Inc., whose owner, former Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, D-Logan, is under a 48-count federal indictment for racketeering, obstruction and bribery.

Another subpoena, Halkias said, seeks documents regarding property appraisal processes used by the Right-of-Way Division.

That's sparked speculation that authorities may be looking into state contracts with Puccio and York LLC, a Fairmont-based property appraisal firm co-owned by Gov. Joe Manchin's chief of staff, Larry Puccio. (Puccio placed that firm and other business interests in a blind trust after going to work for the governor in 2005.) Since 1996, Puccio and York has done a total of $742,562 of business with the state, primarily for property appraisals for the Department of Transportation, where P&Y has consistently underbid other competitors for contracts.


For whatever reason, the company's share of state business has slacked off of late, with the state auditor's office showing only four payments in 2009, all from Division of Highways, in amounts of $650, $300, $400, and $1,700.

In fact, Puccio and York hasn't had a large contract with the state since August 2007, when it was paid $28,800 by the Department of Transportation for an appraisal project.

Speaking of Auditor Glen Gainer, the annual State Auditor's Conference runs this Tuesday through Friday at Snowshoe Resort.

The four-day conference includes a number of seminars for state employees and members of state boards and commissions, including nine sessions approved for continuing professional education credits from the state Board of Accountancy, on topics such as general payment processing procedures, E-document processing, etc.

Each evening, the conference features "networking opportunities" at Snowshoe's Mountain Lodge. Tuesday is Sports' Night ("Wear your favorite team apparel ..."), Wednesday is Mardi Gras Night ("masks and beads provided ..."), and Thursday is '70s and '80s night.

At press time, registrations for the conference had topped the 400 mark.

Joe Smith, retired state personnel director and Manchin's point man on personnel issues, won't win any points with state employees, but give him kudos for trying to whip the previously dysfunctional state Racing Commission into shape.

Smith and the commission stood up to considerable political pressure last week by setting up a study panel to determine whether the state really needs to spend up to $2 million to build two greyhound training tracks in the state. (It need not be mentioned that Tomblin Kennels in Chapmanville is one of the largest greyhound breeders in the state.) That aside, some observers are grumbling that Smith is quadruple-dipping from the state.

In addition to recent appointments as chairman of the Racing Commission ($12,000 salary plus expenses) and on the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board ($150 for each meeting plus $135 a day in expenses), Smith draws a state pension, and renewed his $6,190-a-month contract with the governor's office as a consultant on personnel issues for another year. (To date, the governor's office has paid his company, Smith Personnel Consulting, a total of $294,243.) Finally, the state Legislature isn't exactly a paragon of diversity, but Delegates Clif Moore, D-McDowell, and Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, might be surprised to learn that, according to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures on the demographics of state legislatures, it is 100 percent Caucasian.

The survey is correct when it states that the Legislature is 84 percent male, 16 percent female. However, it states that a total of 92 percent of legislators are age 50 or older, but 23 percent are 49 or under ... oops.

Without actually crunching the numbers, it looks like the survey is close on its breakdown of legislator occupations, with 21 percent listed as business executives, 14 percent attorneys, 13 percent retired, and 10.5 percent public school employees.

However, it also lists 1.3 percent of legislators (or two) as state employees. There's one problem with that: The West Virginia Constitution prohibits state employees from serving in the Legislature.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

To see more of The Charleston Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wvgazette.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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