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Water Board manager defends payments

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Water Board General Manager Richard Welch said that it was not unusual for the board to pay golf tournament entry fees for board member Charles O. Thayer III when he attended conferences.

Welch was unaware if any other board members or employees had used Water Board funds to pay golf entry fees in the past. Welch said he relies on Finance Director Dan Adkins to notify him of unusual or suspicious requests. Since Adkins did not question the entry fees, Welch said he believed there was nothing wrong with it.

Board member Russell Lopez said he was still in the process of putting together a packet of information for the state Ethics Commission to review his complaint that Thayer violated the rules.

Richard Alker, executive director of the state Ethics Commission said Thursday that Thayer may have violated the state's ethics act. Additionally, Adkins also may have violated the act because he played in at least one golf tournament on a corporate team sponsored by a vendor.

Welch said corporate vendors often put together teams for the conference tournaments and use employees from water systems around the state to fill empty slots. Alker said it may be a violation because corporate vendors might have an interest in how the water board does business.

Thayer said Friday that the golf tournaments are a common part of the conferences and he did not believe there was anything wrong with including the greens fees in with the cost of the conference. He also said that if the Ethics Commission decides it was unethical, he will refund the money.

"It's laughable, really, that they'd bring something like this up," he said. "If anything was wrong or improper about it, I assume the director of finance would have pointed it out or said we don't pay for that. I've always assumed it was just part of the conference."

Lopez said Thursday the amount of money involved was not the driving issue behind his planned complaint.

"I know it's not a lot of money involved, but that's not the point," Lopez said. "I'm just saying it's a breach of ethics. He's had a lot of experience on elected councils and boards, and I would think he'd look into it before he did it. I'm not saying he did something wrong, I just think he did. It's up to the Ethics Commission to say whether it's wrong."

The issue of the water board paying for golf tournaments was raised by President Pat D'Anselmi at the April 10 meeting. According to water board records, she asked what items the board paid and Adkins said lodging, mileage, cost of the seminar and "occasionally the golf outing."

D'Anselmi said she believed the board should have a policy on seminars and the board should not pay for golf or vehicle rentals.

According to water board records, Thayer attended state Rural Water Association conferences in 1999 and 2000 and state American Water Works Association conferences in 2000 and 2001.

In each case, Thayer completed the registration forms for the conference golf tournaments. The file also contained canceled water board checks for the $50 entry fees.

Alker said the Ethics Commission has never specifically addressed the issue of an agency paying for an elected official's greens fees. He said there was an older opinion from the commission concerning a chamber of commerce to pay greens fees for state legislators during a special session. However, he did not believe the circumstances were similar enough to compare the two.

"The (Ethics) Act said public servants cannot use their position for personal gain. There's nothing specific in the language about greens fees, but then there's nothing specific about nepotism and that's definitely unethical," he said. "If a public servant were to ask me if it would be all right to play golf on the government tab, I would say no."

Staff writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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