A longtime friend and business associate of Gov. Jim Justice persuaded members of the Senate Confirmations Committee on Monday that he meets the requirements in West Virginia law to be the state’s highways commissioner.
Byrd White said he fits the description in state law as “a person who is experienced in highway planning, finance, construction, maintenance, management and supervision.”
The three previous Division of Highways commissioners were highways engineers. White is an accountant who has worked in a variety of positions, most recently in the state Tax Division. Before that, he managed a Justice-owned country club.
White said Monday that he also was a supervisor at Ranger Construction, a West Virginia-owned company in south Florida, from 2001 to 2004. That company operated asphalt plants used to pave subdivisions, interstates and Air Force bases from Orlando to Key West, he said.
“I just feel comfortable I meet all those requirements,” White said, indicating he has experience in each of the six categories, although not necessarily directly from involvement in highways construction.
“I’ve managed groups of five people, and I’ve managed companies of hundreds,” he said.
White, who lives in Beaver, Raleigh County, also told senators that he has rented an apartment in Charleston’s East End in order to comply with another requirement in state law that mandates that the highways commissioner reside in Charleston.
“I found out about a week and a half ago that the commissioner of highways is required to live in Charleston. I didn’t know that,” White said, contending that only one of the previous seven commissioners complied with the law.
“I hope you will see fit to change that, because it does restrict the governor’s choices on who he can pick, but it is the law, and I will follow it,” White said.
Justice named White as Secretary of Transportation in March, days after firing Tom Smith, a 37-year veteran of the Federal Highways Administration, for what he saw as a lack of emphasis on secondary roads maintenance.
At that time, Justice also promoted longtime Highways supervisor Jimmy Wriston to acting commissioner of Highways.
However, in late August, Justice named White as Highways commissioner, and effectively demoted Wriston to deputy commissioner.
That move allows Wriston to avoid a pay cut to the $92,500 salary for commissioner set in state code. According to the auditor’s office, Wriston made $131,480 in 2018.
Also under state law, White will receive a $25,000 raise for serving in the dual capacities. By law, the salary of Transportation Secretary is $95,000, but secretaries who also serve as Highways commissioners receive a salary of $120,000.
Senators confirmed White and 136 other Justice appointments made since March on a 29-0 vote.
Later Monday, the Senate finally adjourned its special session that technically began on March 10 and continued spottily through June and July.