Sadly, listening to the opening testimony in the State Supreme Court impeachment proceedings and, in the other ear, hearing the pitiful excuses and hollow promises rolling out of the state’s capitol about badly mismanaged flood recovery funds, we are only further convinced of a longheld notion – inside our state and out – that West Virginia’s political class and appointed governmental lackeys are corrupt, morally bereft, ethically supine and intellectually powerless to solve problems of state.
Meanwhile, families who lost everything, including the roof over their heads, sit and wait for assistance, their lives put on hold, their struggles real, going on two years now after flood waters washed away their lives, their businesses, their communities. Each and every citizen ought to be ticked off to high heaven.
Allen Loughry, who as recently as late last year served as the chief justice of the Court, faces – at last count – 22 federal charges for myriad offenses, some small potatoes, some sizable cantaloupes, most addressing creature comforts at home. There was a court desk, a court couch and – what the heck – throw in some computer hardware, too.
We have no problem spending a few tax dollars on hooking up justices to the Internet from the quiet of their own home. It’s a good place to work.
But, as we learned from testimony during impeachment hearings this past week, Loughry had designs on more than just accessing the court network. He had two desktops computers and a laptop at home – both property of the court.
One desktop was used for playing games and storing family photographs.
Justices receive annual salaries of $136,000. The average household income in West Virginia is a few nickels north of $44,000.
In addition to their pay, justices are afforded legal assistance – expensive underlings – courtesy of state funding. Each of the five justices has four clerks and a secretary. Clerks make as much as $120,000 a year. The lowest paid clerk makes $95,000. Secretaries? $80,000 a year.
So, in any justice’s office, taxpayers are providing something in the neighborhood of $700,000 a year – in salaries alone.
Turns out, that taxpayer generosity wasn’t enough.
Loughry needed a laptop at home, too. And those two computers. Essentially, he stole it all. That’s the charge.
Meanwhile, back with the glacial response team assigned to the 2016 floods, Gov. Jim Justice promised in early June, as the bulk of $150 million available for flood relief sat unspent, that the effort now would “move at light speed.”
“Give us a month,” the governor implored – as if we had a choice. “Give us a month and find out what happens.”
Rewind the clock to May 6 when the governor said RISE West Virginia – the state’s disaster recovery program – had given each of six families the keys to their new home.
On Friday, according to a report issued by Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, RISE had completed seven homes, total, in two years.
Let us repeat: Seven homes in two years.
If that is not depressing enough, consider this: The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported over the weekend that RISE administrators spent $21,000 on a retreat at a AAA Four Diamond-rated resort, at least 50 percent of which was covered with federal disaster relief funds.
Clearly, the governor needs to work on his messaging and on getting his facts straight – while RISE officials need to work on optics.
Governance in our state is an embarrassment.
Following what we hope is Loughry’s impeachment, we would urge federal prosecutors to put him on trial. For what he has done – willfully and repeatedly violating the public trust and seriously eroding the integrity of our state’s highest court – he needs to spend some time in jail. Without computer privileges.
As for our governor, he needs to cut his summer short – no more golf. First and foremost, he needs to get those federal funds dispersed to people who have been without a home these past two years.
Our state governance is a mess and Jim Justice is our head of state.
That says it all, governor.