CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) said the state’s purchasing laws will be thoroughly reviewed in the wake of a legislative audit focused on how $10 million in federal stimulus money was spent on emergency communications towers.
Kessler said he is working with Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Tim Miley on legislation “to make sure this kind of stuff never happens again.”
The 41-page audit, which was released to lawmakers earlier this week, found state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato and Emergency Communications Director Joe Gonzalez skipped state purchasing requirements when authorizing Premier Construction, based in Lewis County, to build 17 towers.
Instead of putting the tower project out for a statewide bid, the audit showed Gianato and Gonzalez used an existing 2009 contract Premier had with the Lewis County Commission. Premier then contracted out the work to several companies. The last of the towers were finished earlier this year.
The audit said state Purchasing Director David Tincher warned the two there were problems with the contract and the work should stop, but those warnings were ignored.
“I can tell you things look screwy,” Aaron Allred, legislative auditor, said. He suggested Bill Ihlenfeld, the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Northern District, may want to take a look at the matter.
Kessler said, at this point, he does not know if a federal investigation is warranted. “I’m sure it will be examined closely by the proper authorities,” he said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” “I think the component we need to look at is the process that was employed to do it.”
As for possible firings, “That would be grounds for, in my view, termination if there’s a willful violation of state purchasing laws, absolutely,” Kessler said.