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W.Va. treasurer campaign heats up over role of 'specialists'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During the West Virginia treasurer's campaign, incumbent John Perdue has said his office employs about a dozen "local government specialists" who work throughout the state and tout agency programs.Republican challenger Mike Hall, who alleges the Treasurer's Office employees also are helping their boss get reelected, stated that Perdue has 22 government specialists on the state payroll.The candidates seem to be counting the employees in different ways, according to a Treasurer's Office document obtained by the Gazette this week. Perdue's office has 26 employees who work in the local government specialist division, the document shows.Those include full- and part-time local government specialists, financial education coordinators, administrative assistants, and a deputy treasurer who coordinates the division.The employees, who work out of their homes or one of four regional offices in West Virginia, deliver unclaimed property checks and market Treasurer's Office programs, such as the Smart 529 college savings plan."[Perdue] is literally running the largest marketing firm in the state," Hall said. "No other marketing firm that I'm aware of has that many employees." George Manahan, a spokesman for Perdue's campaign, said the Treasurer's Office has 14 full-time and three part-time local government specialists, and a deputy treasurer who oversees the employees.  Perdue's office also has three financial education coordinators and four administrative assistants who work in the local government specialist division."Local government specialists are the main reason that West Virginia has the country's best unclaimed property program," Manahan said.The Treasurer's Office employees also support the state's 437 supplemental retirement program and help local governments conduct audits, he said."The programs, and others, are successful because local government specialists reach out to schools, parents, government agencies and individuals throughout the state," Manahan said. "They bring government to West Virginians no matter where they live. It's a great concept: Bring government to the people instead of forcing them to come to Charleston."
Perdue's agency has regional offices in Beckley, Huntington, Morgantown and Wheeling. Full-time local specialist salaries range from $32,000 to $79,500.On Tuesday, Hall's campaign sent the Gazette a photo of a local government specialist - and another Treasurer's Office employee - wearing "Perdue for Treasurer" buttons at a candidate forum in Beckley earlier in the day.Manahan said the employees attended the Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce event at 7 a.m. -- before their workday started and not on state time."This is yet another attempt by Mike Hall to make accusations without telling all the facts," Manahan said.
Several local government specialists have political ties, including Jack Roop, a former legislator and Raleigh County commissioner, and Tony Whitlow, a former state senator from Mercer County.Perdue also has Tom Lange, former president of the West Virginia Education Association, on the local government specialist division payroll as a financial education coordinator.In an interview with Gazette editors earlier this month, Perdue said "11 to 13" local government specialists worked for his office."[Perdue] says the people who work as local government specialists are very qualified, and we don't deny that they are, but the fact he doesn't know how many government specialists he has is troubling," Hall said Tuesday.The Treasurer's Office list of local government specialists includes Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden, but Manahan said Baisden left Perdue's office in August. The document lists Baisden's home telephone number and his secretary's number at the Mingo commission office.During the campaign, Hall also has criticized Perdue for accepting contributions from Treasurer's Office employees. More than 30 Perdue workers have donated a combined $28,000 to their boss's campaign, according to election reports.
"[Hall] is running a desperate, negative campaign," Manahan said. "I'm not sure how his tactics wash with his religious values as a minister, but he ought to be ashamed of himself for spreading lies and half truths about John Perdue."Reach Eric Eyre at or 304-348-4869.
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