We need the full story on Warner and BRIM settlements

By Ron Johnson | Jan 8, 2019

CHARLESTON – A true story with information left out becomes highly deceptive. The media has reported extensively on the settlement cost involved in the termination of 12 individuals in the Secretary of State's Office when Mac Warner took office.

If you find the amounts outrageous, join the club, but it is the overly generous awards of the Board of Risk and Insurance Management, BRIM, which are outrageous and just plain wrong. Secretary Warner has explained his reasonable actions and the too-willing-to-settle mishandling by unelected bureaucrats, but his words have been largely ignored by the media. 

I’m not a reporter, I’m a retired Army intelligence sergeant, but I decided to see what I could learn about the firings by keeping my ears open in visits to the Capitol. Suffice it to say, if BRIM had allowed this to come to trial and given Secretary Warner his day in court, and if even a small part of what I have heard is true, it would have significantly changed the outcome to the benefit of the taxpayer. 

These were “at will” employees, meaning they work at the will and pleasure of the current secretary. The new secretary is entitled to replace as many as he may deem necessary with people he can trust to be committed to making changes he was elected to make. If virtually the entire office was Democrat due to Secretary Warner's Democrat predecessor, it is not surprising, nor wrong that most of those released happened to be Democrat. We taxpayers are entitled to know if there were non-political reasons for releasing these employees; I firmly believe there were. How many Republicans worked in that office under Mac Warner's predecessor? What does that say about the real discrimination? Where is that analysis in the media or by BRIM?

I have heard three of those released had stated there was no way they were going to work for Secretary Warner but did not turn in their letters of resignation. Did they perhaps know they could hit the BRIM jackpot?

It was related to me that three stated they weren’t quitting but they weren’t going to do any work either. They needed firing. 

A quick comparison tells one several were being paid well above what others were making in the Statehouse doing the same work. We expect those types to be released when discovered.  

Rumors abound of the Capitol Police on the verge of arresting one of these employee for drug involvement. Do we want that kind of person in the Secretary of State's Office?

It appears two or three people removed official letterhead stationery prior to the office changing hands in an attempt to thwart the new secretary from being able to prepare timely letters of appointment for the governor the next morning. A janitor saw what was going on and retrieved the stationery before it went to the dump. I have seen no media reports about that attempt at fraud, waste, abuse, and destruction of state property by employees who were fired.  

One of the more disturbing discussions I overheard concerned problems with the computer program used by candidates to file campaign expense reports. After being called in state IT people reportedly stated someone had attempted to sabotage it. Has the media been interested in investigating and reporting on this employee misconduct? 

When I asked the political makeup of the BRIM board, nobody could cite a Republican. If BRIM is highly Democrat, the governor needs to fix this so citizens can be assured any settlements are not politically based attempts to destroy a good public servant's reputation. Elected officials need some say so about proceeding to trial on these matters; it is not fair to take away a person's ability to fight for what is right. If there is disagreement between the elected head and BRIM, at least allow a review committee made up of equal numbers of elected officials from both parties to make the final decision. 

Due to media bias, we rarely hear of the good things Secretary Warner and his people have done. 

They have cleaned up West Virginia voter roles by sending personnel to assist each county clerk in scrubbing the voter roles. In two years, this resulted in just over 100,000 being identified as dead, having moved, duplicate registrations or incarcerated being dropped from the roles. One county was so bad they lost 17% of their voting role. Through aggressive efforts, over 75,000 verified new voters were registered for the last election. 

They have opened a “One Stop Business Center,” the first of its kind in the country to include the Secretary of State, the State Tax Department, and the Division of Labor and Workforce Development all in one location. They opened two business hubs in other parts of the state to facilitate West Virginia business. With funding from the state Legislature, we are now one of 33 states offering these new, expedited business services.

This office has taken action against outside political groups for failing to disclose contributions or register as a Political Action Committee in West Virginia. Mac Warner wants us to know who is behind the ads flooding the airways and billboards in West Virginia. 

Secretary Warner has led the way in this nation in developing and implementing an overseas electronic voting system for deployed soldiers and West Virginia citizens living overseas.

This Secretary has led the way, fighting for cybersecurity and security clearances for Secretaries of State nationwide to allow them to communicate with Homeland Security and receive notice of outside threats to our voting. There are more achievements but alas I would need much more space.

This is a good man and a great public servant who is effective because he has gotten the right people into the right jobs. A fair and honest media needs to report the full story. Leaders need to be allowed to exercise hiring discretion and fight for what is right without unelected, politically biased bureaucrats being able to take the easy route of settling disputes without legislative oversight. 

Johnson is a West Virginia native, a 33-year Army veteran, former business owner, author and community college instructor.

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