State needs to provide answers to questions
Precisely what the West Virginia Department of Commerce did incorrectly in mismanaging a gigantic program meant to help victims of June 2016 flooding remains unclear. Still, remarks by Gov. Jim Justice on Monday leave a trail of dots to be connected:
• Justice revealed the RISE West Virginia flood relief initiative, with nearly $150 million in federal funding available, has been pulled out of the commerce agency. Instead, it will be overseen by Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who is adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.
• One person already has been fired from the Commerce Department because of the RISE fiasco. On Monday, the governor’s office issued a news release stating “there will be terminations” at the agency.
• Questions about the future of Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher remained unanswered during the governor’s press conference. Afterward, Thrasher himself told a reporter he plans “on continuing” in his position.
• During his press conference, Justice mentioned a release from the Commerce Department last November. It quoted Thrasher as saying the flood recovery program had aided 1,100 families. “That is totally inaccurate,” Justice said. In fact, by last month, only about $1.3 million of the federal funding had been spent.
So, connect the dots. They seem to indicate that the agency Thrasher headed did a miserable job of handing flood recovery funds — and was not entirely truthful about how much aid was being handed out.
To his credit, Justice had something more to say on Monday. “We’re just plain not doing our job,” he said of his office’s relationship with the news media. “We need to have a communication line with you that is much, much, much improved than what it has been.”
Amen to that, particularly in view of the many questions surrounding the RISE program.
One of them, unfortunately, is this: If Thrasher’s agency mishandled the RISE project — and it did — what other programs important to West Virginians are being mismanaged?