CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has instructed the state Department of Commerce to pull its sponsorship for the upcoming Greenbrier Classic golf tournament at the hotel resort run by the governor’s family.
The state Development Office was set for Ethics Commission consideration of a contract exemption to participate as a sponsor. A special meeting was to be at 10 a.m. Monday.
“Even though the Ethics Commission may very well approve the Department of Commerce’s request to participate as a sponsor for the 2017 Greenbrier Classic, I do not feel comfortable going forward with their participation,” Justice said in a news release.
Justice added, “Since I am the Governor and have a vested interest in The Greenbrier, I do not want to be involved. There’s no need to cloud such an important economic and promotional event for our state.”
Justice said the relationship between the Department of Commerce and The Greenbrier Classic has been beneficial in past years.
“I clearly recognize the gain the state has realized from the Commerce Department’s sponsorships in the past, however, I don’t want any perception of impropriety,” the governor stated in the news release.
The Commerce Department had chosen a diminished sponsorship level for the 2017 Greenbrier Classic in the amount of $500,000 as compared to past annual sponsorships of $1.7 million. The investment to entertain potential clients included tents, hospitality, rooms and spots in the various Pro-Am events.“With great regret we are pulling our sponsorship this year,” stated Woody Thrasher, secretary of the Department of Commerce.
“This is absolutely devastating because we had hoped to again capitalize on the wonderful opportunity this event presents to market West Virginia to potential investors. The net results achieved by the Commerce Department during the past Classics have been extremely positive, but we clearly understand Governor Justice’s decision.”
The Justice family’s ownership of The Greenbrier is one of the many facets of an active economic life that the governor included on a financial disclosure form as he became governor.
Justice, when he filed to run for governor, had listed himself as the CEO of The Greenbrier. There was no such listing once Justice actually took office because he had transitioned management of the resort to his daughter Jill.
During a 20-minute interview this week in his office at the Capitol, Justice had doubts about his own participation in The Greenbrier Classic from July 3 to 9, depending on if there’s a resolution to the ongoing negotiations over the state budget.
“I won’t be involved if this is still going on here. I’ll be sitting down here trying to get this worked out because this is a thousand, million times more important than The Greenbrier Classic,” Justice said.
“But I’ve got to say this, The Greenbrier Classic even though I was the guy that really started it and everything — and I don’t say this bragadociously at all; I just say it factually — it’s the biggest economic p.r. event in our state period.”
He continued, “I mean, when you think that there’s 200 different countries that are looking at this and hundreds of millions of people that can possibly gravitate to this to see it, the magnitude of that event, as far as putting a spotlight on West Virginia is big time, I mean major big time.”
He said the state was able to successfully use The Greenbrier Classic to cultivate business relationships in the past.
“Governor Tomblin had a lot of real successes with things that happened with Procter & Gamb;le and on and on and on that they pulled off while they were there,” Justice said.