Solicitation efforts to raise funds to assist would-be foster families in readying their homes for state certification is appropriate, the West Virginia Ethics Commission determined Thursday.
In the request for an advisory opinion, a state agency — presumably the Bureau for Children and Families — sought permission to fundraise to provide potential foster families with items required for their homes to be certified by the government, including smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, safety locks and gates, emergency ladders and first-aid kits.
According to the request, many potential foster families “are of limited means and struggle financially to comply with the requirements for certification.”
Under the Ethics Act, public officials and public employees may participate in solicitation efforts only on behalf of charitable organizations and causes. Commissioners concluded Thursday that helping potential foster families prepare their homes to receive foster children constitutes a valid charitable purpose.
“There never is enough money to give to foster families for the care of the children,” Commissioner Bob Harman said of the decision. “We ought to be glad these activities are taking place.”
West Virginia’s foster care services, overwhelmed with cases resulting from the opioid drug epidemic, have been in the headlines frequently of late — most recently with a lawsuit filed this week contending the state is failing to provide necessary services to foster children.
The Ethics Commission’s advisory opinion also authorizes the agency to fundraise for a program that provides awards and gifts to children as rewards for maintaining positive behaviors.
Also Thursday, the commission:
- Ruled that cities may provide meals to employees if they are required to work overtime to deal with emergencies.
In the request for an advisory opinion, a city treasurer asked if the city could provide meals to employees required to work past their normal workday hours to deal with an emergency, such as a water line break.
Under the Ethics Act, it is not permissible to use public funds for private gain, except in extenuating circumstances.
Commissioners concluded Thursday that providing meals to employees working overtime to resolve an emergency is a justifiable exception, particularly if it allows workers to remain on-site during the emergency.
- Approved a conciliation agreement with Mike Adams, a board member of Preston County Public Service District No. 1, for ethics violations that involved participating in discussions and voting on matters that resulted in pay raises and promotions for his son, a PSD employee for more than seven years.
Under the agreement, Adams was fined $500, publicly reprimanded and is required to undergo ethics training.
- Approved guidelines for Charleston lawyer Brad Crouser to become Workers’ Compensation chief administrative law judge in December.
For two years, Crouser must recuse himself from hearing any cases involving former clients, or any cases involving attorneys with which he had practiced with or against.
He also must disqualify himself from hearing any cases involving his former law firm, Jackson & Kelly, so long as he is receiving retirement payouts from the firm. According to the advisory opinion, those payouts will continue though at least December 2020.
- Commission Executive Director Rebecca Steptoe reported a sudden recent spike in ethics complaints filed with the commission.
So far this calendar year, the commission has received 88 verified complaints, compared to 49 complaints at the same point in 2018. It’s also more than the total number of verified complaints received in 2018 (73) or 2017 (85).