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WV Ethics Commission considers letting state officials go to Greenbrier

The West Virginia Ethics Commission will decide today if workers with the state Development Office and Division of Tourism attend events at The Greenbrier resort, given that Gov. Jim Justice has not put his ownership of the resort into a blind trust.

According to the meeting agenda, the Development Office requested a contract exemption to attend a business summit at the resort hosted by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 29 to Aug. 31.

In the written request, Joshua J. Jarrell, counsel for the Development Office, said the department would send employees to attend the conference, provide lodging for them and “host business prospects as it would do in any other venue” to bring new jobs to the state.

However, the office, along with the Division of Tourism, also requested a broad exemption to allow their employees to attend future functions or events at the resort that could drive business in the area.

Regarding the Development Office, Jarrell said the department has used The Greenbrier to host consultants in the past who act as a medium between their corporate clients and state economic development agencies.

Additionally, he said, the Tourism Office often is invited to attend events at the resort and the exemption would allow them to skip formal requests for permission.

“It is impossible to promote tourism in West Virginia and avoid the state’s most recognized resort,” he said.

In March, Justice entered into a blind trust agreement, approved by the Ethics Commission, for his interest in companies that operate the Glade Springs resort near Beckley and the Wintergreen ski resort in Virginia.

There still are more than 100 businesses listed in Justice’s December 2016 financial disclosure not subject to any blind trust agreement, including the businesses that own The Greenbrier resort. Justice named his daughter, Jill, president of the resort.

Justice attorney Brian Helmick told commissioners in March that more of those businesses will be added to the blind trust over time, once some kinks are ironed out, including getting lenders on the assets to sign off on the trust arrangements. At the time, he said The Greenbrier would be worked out.

“We are working on The Greenbrier. We are working on some of the financial issues there,” he said. “We may be with you for the next few months.”

Helmick added that Justice had directed his Cabinet secretaries and department heads to not enter into contracts or do business with companies he owns until they are placed into the blind trust.

He did not respond to phone calls or emails requesting an update on the blind trust arrangements.

Along with The Greenbrier, Justice owns many companies and publicly traded stocks that could pose a conflict of interest in his governance.

As previously reported, some of Justice’s assets, like The Greenbrier or his coal operations, are regulated by state agencies, such as the Lottery Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection, respectively.

Likewise, his financial disclosures show he still owns stock in Procter & Gamble, Merck & Co., Axiall Corp., Chemours Co., and Dupont, all of which have connections to West Virginia.

The Ethics Commission needs to sign off on any blind trust, should a public official choose to engage in one. Rebecca Stepto, executive director of the commission, said she has not received any blind trust requests since March.

Writer Phil Kabler contributed to this report.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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