CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Speaker Tim Miley (D-Harrison) is not happy with the findings of a legislative audit on the way $10 million in federal stimulus money was spent for 17 emergency communications towers in Lewis County.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Miley of the audit that found state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato and state Emergency Communications Director Joe Gonzalez failed to comply with a series of state purchasing laws in awarding the tower construction business to Premier Construction of Lewis County.
“When we are charged with being stewards of the state’s money, we have, in my opinion, a heightened standard in how we handle that money. We can’t handle it as if it were our own money,” Miley said.
The audit, which was released to lawmakers Tuesday, said Gonzalez had a “professional relationship” with Premier Construction’s owner.
In 2010, when the state had an opportunity to expand its emergency communications network with federal stimulus money, the audit found Gonzalez and Gianato hired Premier without going through the proper bidding process.
It determined an existing contract in Lewis County was used instead of the tower work being bid out statewide.
Premier then contracted out most of the work to five different companies, the audit said, even though four of the five did not have licenses to do business in West Virginia.
The audit found construction work continued on those towers even after state Purchasing Director David Tincher warned Gonzalez and Gianato the contract “may not have been done in accordance with appropriate procedures.”
“Rules were not followed. I can’t explain why they weren’t followed, but it’s very disturbing,” said Miley on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
At this point, Miley said he’s not sure what actions the audit will prompt. “It’s troubling to us and Senate President (Jeff) Kessler and I, as well as the governor, have had a lot of conversations about this over the past several days.”
On Tuesday, State Auditor Aaron Allred told lawmakers Bill Ihlenfeld, the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Northern District, may need to take a look at the matter.