In a show of force, the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding has issued its first subpoena as its probe into a stalled flood recovery program advances.
The committee announced in a news release that it would meet Thursday and has issued a subpoena to the Department of Commerce’s former director of community advancement and development, Mary Jo Thompson, a senior official with RISE West Virginia.
Emails show Thompson confirmed to a Senate analyst that she would appear for the committee’s June 26 meeting but failed to do so. Legislators indicated at the meeting that they were stood up, and Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, immediately began discussing subpoena power.
A Department of Commerce representative eventually informed the committee that Thompson and the former deputy director of Commerce’s development office, Russell Tarry, no longer worked for the department. That testimony came four days after their employment ended.
Along with Thompson, the committee has requested (although not subpoenaed) testimony from two key Commerce employees involved with RISE.
For one, the committee requested that former Deputy Secretary and General Counsel Josh Jarrell appear. He was fired in May in connection with RISE’s troubles, although he has denied that he was fired and noted that he had already filed to seek outside employment at the time.
Additionally, Andrew Mihallik, a program specialist with RISE, has been asked to appear.
In phone calls, Jarrell confirmed that he would appear, while Mihallik left it open to speculation.
“Show up and find out, buddy,” Mihallik said before ending the phone call.
Among other contributions, Mihallik is listed as the contact on a report from RISE to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stating that, as of March 31, it had spent only about $1.14 million of the $150 million of its HUD grant.
Jarrell signed off on a number of contracts, totaling $17 million, with a consultant that was assisting in managing the program. The Governor’s Office froze RISE upon discovering that the contracts did not go through the required purchasing protocol.
Later reporting from the news media and state investigators revealed myriad communications failures with victims, falsehoods to the general public and little to show by way of accomplishments on RISE’s behalf.
Any testimony from a Department of Commerce official would mark the first public comment anyone from the department has offered since May, when news of the matter broke.
Jacque Bland, a state Senate spokeswoman, said Tuesday she did not know whether Mihallik would appear.
The committee also requested that Brian Abraham, general counsel for Gov. Jim Justice, appear to answer questions.
Two representatives from the state Auditor’s Office are slated to present research on RISE’s stagnation, as well.
Technically, Thursday’s meeting is a joint meeting between the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding and the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, the only interim committee empowered to issue subpoenas.