By DAVE BOUCHER
CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Rebecca Stepto is set to take over the state body charged with overseeing governmental ethics after it recently fired the former leader without giving a reason.
Stepto, a Charleston attorney, will start today as interim executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, said the agency’s chairman, Kemp Morton.
“The commission is very excited that Rebecca has agreed to serve as our interim executive director and we and our staff all look forward to working with her,” Morton said in an email to the Daily Mail.
Stepto expressed similar sentiments in response to emailed questions.
“I look forward to working with the staff, all of whom I know through my work as a contract attorney, and the members of the Commission,” she said.
Stepto graduated from West Virginia University School of Law in 1984 and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Marshall University. She served on the Yeager Scholar’s Program’s Board of Directors from 2009-2013.
Morton described her as a “highly respected lawyer” with 30 years experience. She was admitted to the state bar in May of 1984, according to the state bar website.
The commission hired Stepto as a contract employee in a January meeting called after the commission violated Open Meetings law by not giving adequate notice of its December meeting.
Recent actions by the commission have come under scrutiny.
On June 5, the commission spent an hour behind closed doors before voting 5-4 to fire then-Executive Director Joan Parker. Saying she was a will-and-pleasure employee, the commission gave no other reason for the ouster.
After the vote, several members of the commission advised others on the body against speaking about the decision publicly.
“As a gentleman, when I go into a private discussion with somebody, I expect my confidence be kept,” said acting chairman Reverend Douglas Sutton at the June 5 meeting.
After the meeting Sutton said several people had several reasons for the firing, but declined to talk about his own or elaborate.
During the legislative session, Parker lobbied against legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. Although Snyder described the interactions as “tense” near the end of session, he didn’t think the work played a role in her firing.
Instead, he pointed to comments made by commission members at their Senate confirmations hearing. Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, chairs the Senate Confirmations Committee and remembered the hearing as a run-of-the-mill meeting.
He recently told the Daily Mail Snyder had “an issue” with Parker, but didn’t know what role that played in her sacking.
Parker, who started as executive director in February 2013, said at the June 5 meeting if fired she’d leave with her head held high. She’s declined further public comment.
On Thursday, the commission voted to give Morton the power to appoint an interim executive director. He initially tried to call for an executive session to discuss a person he wanted for the job, but the commission’s attorney raised questions as to whether the move would violate Open Meetings laws.
Morton said he didn’t want to discuss the candidates name in public before the person had accepted the job. He eventually said he’d send an email to all of the commissioners with the name once he had made the decision, but declined to give any details about the potential choice in open session.
When asked when she was approached by Morton, Stepto said she couldn’t recall when he made the offer, but accepted it right away.
As regards the circumstances leading to her new post, she wrote, “As a contract attorney for the Commission, I knew and respected Joan Parker, but I had no involvement in or information concerning her termination.”
There are no more commission meetings currently scheduled. Legislation passed this year requires the governor to set the next meeting date after appointing a new, nine-member board.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin may reappoint members from the current board — while there are 12 positions, only 10 are filled at the moment — but could choose and entirely new commission.
Tomblin has not made any public comments about whom he may appoint to the commission. State law requires he appoint new members by July 1.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.