Members of the West Virginia Ethics Commission voted 5-4 Thursday to fire executive director Joan Parker, effective immediately.
No reason was given for Parker’s termination, and Commissioner Kemp Morton said that because she is an at-will employee, “We give no reason.”
Commissioners met for more than an hour in closed-door executive session before the vote. Afterward, commissioners were instructed not to discuss anything that had occurred during that session.
“It’s my view everything discussed in executive session is confidential, and to reveal it would constitute an invasion of privacy,” Morton said.
Commissioner Douglas Sutton, who chaired the meeting since Morton was participating via telephone, added, “As a gentleman, when I go into a private discussion with somebody, I expect their confidence to be kept.”
Thursday’s action comes four months after the commission took the rare action of directing Parker to lobby against a Senate bill that would have exempted county conservation district officers from the Ethics Act’s prohibition on having private interests in public contracts, in order to obtain conservation agency grants for their farms.
The bill passed, but with a House amendment that removed the Ethics law exemption, and instead requires grants benefiting county conservation district officers to be handled by the state Conservation Committee.
Parker’s lobbying drew the wrath of some senators, whose retaliatory actions included a bill that would have shrunk the Ethics Commission from 12 to seven members, and would have required that a former lobbyist and a representative of the “agriculture community” serve on the board.
Ultimately, a House-Senate conference committee compromised on legislation to reconstitute the Ethics Commission as a nine-member panel — legislation that’s effective July 1.
After the meeting, Sutton declined to say if what happened during the legislative session led to Parker’s termination.
“There’s been a number of things that have gone on this year,” he said. “I think this was the right decision at the right time for the benefit of the commission.”
Parker declined to comment on her termination.
However, before the executive session, Parker told commissioners if they voted to fire her, she would leave with her head held high.
“I have done everything in my power, even when it was unpopular, to promote compliance with the Ethics Act,” she said, receiving a standing ovation from the commissioners.
She also requested a roll call vote on Morton’s motion for termination.
Morton, Terry Walker, Mike Greer, Betty Ireland and Robert Wolfe voted yes. Drema Radford, Monte Williams, Suzan Singleton and Jack Buckalew voted no.
In casting her vote, Radford said, “I can’t, I’m sorry, no.”
Commissioners called an emergency meeting for Monday to authorize Morton to select an interim executive director.
Under the legislation passed in March, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has a July 1 deadline to appoint the members of the reconstituted Ethics Commission, and to set a meeting date for them in July. Under the law, Tomblin has the option to reappoint current members of the commission.
Parker joined the Ethics Commission in 2006, becoming general counsel in 2009, and executive director in February 2013.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.