AND THEN AGAIN……by Tamara Pettit

…..Is there such a thing as reverse favoritism?   Does a conflict of interest exist because someone  works/is friends/or is related to an elected official?  Let me be the first to say that I truly believe we are all distantly related in Hancock County  We are after all only 88-square-miles.  Don’t make West Virginia jokes because I think the invention of the car probably extended our gene pool to neighboring towns of Chester, Newell, New Cumberland and Weirton.    In the early years townspeople most often married townspeople.  My parents were both from New Cumberland.   The grandparents that I knew were both from New Cumberland…..and on and on.   My maiden name was Herron and I once went to a Christmas Dance with the late Bob Mayhew only to find out his middle name was Herron.   It was a family name, only he was related through my Mom!  Yes, I had Herron’s on both branches of my family.  I have a childhood friend, Joanne Rosso Hawkins, and I swear she knows how everyone in this town is linked. 

……I say this because in our zeal to make sure there is NO conflict of interest when we appoint or hire public employees, I think we are often guilty of reverse discrimination.   I served in the Legislature in 1989 when the Ethics Legislation was enacted so I really think I can speak to its intent: to put an end to employing family and friends to the exclusion of those who are more competent.  The purpose was to eliminate favoritism, but I don’t think the purpose was to shut the door on  competent candidates.   The recent 2 to 1 vote by the Hancock County Commission to not hire Dave Willey as County Administrator/IT Director on the basis of his wife’s part-time job with Commissioner’s Jeff Davis’s outside  business is an example.   Don’t know Mr. Wiley personally nor do I know about his qualifications.   What I do know, however, that he was selected out of a field of 12 applicants on the basis of those qualifications and then subsequently rejected by Commissioners Eron Chek and Paul Cowey because of what Chek termed a business relationship with Commissioner Davis not being disclosed during the interview.

…..Wiley’s spouse works part-time for one of Davis’s businesses.  Should that have been disclosed prior to the interview or should Wiley have been considered on his qualifications and ability to perform the job alone?  Would it have influenced the outcome?    Since Davis checked with the Ethics Commission and it was determined to not be a conflict, I think it should be a moot issue.  We are a small community and all have ties with each other.  The reason we passed the enabling legislation for the Ethics Commission in 1989 was to set up the process to determine if a line has been crossed which would prevent a public body from selecting the most qualified candidate who would be able to perform his/her job fairly and competently.

…..In this case I think that line has become a moving target.