CHARLESTON, W.Va. — EQT, a major oil and gas company with significant assets in West Virginia, says it has no problem with shareholder and board member Bray Cary serving in a volunteer role within the Governor’s Office.
“We are aware that Mr. Cary has volunteered his time to support the state of West Virginia by serving, in an unpaid capacity, as an informal advisor to Governor Justice,” stated Linda Robertson, media relations and brand manager for EQT.
“This volunteer work for the state does not conflict with Mr. Cary’s duties as a member of EQT’s board of directors. We applaud him for volunteering his valuable time to help move West Virginia forward.”
That’s not an opinion shared by David McMahon, a lawyer representing surface owners and mineral owners. McMahon often represents those groups in policy negotiations at the state Capitol.
“When the Jim Justice was campaigning for governor, a representative of surface owners was able to meet with him and he seemed sympathetic. With some development bill bound to happen during this next Legislature we have asked to meet with him or be included in any stakeholders group. That has not happened so far,” McMahon stated in response to a question about Cary’s role in the governor’s office.
“I have never met Mr. Cary, but his position is worrisome since EQT is one of the drillers that is least accepting of what we believe are surface owners’ property rights.”
Scrutiny of Cary’s role has grown since the publication of a Charleston Gazette-Mail article detailing his “citizen volunteer” status within the governor’s office.
Cary is unpaid but has a reserved parking spot at the Capitol along with round-the-clock access to the Statehouse through an official swipe card. Observers say he has been taking part in policy-oriented meetings, including some having to do with the state’s inventory tax.
Cary, probably best known as the owner of West Virginia Media television stations and as the host of “Decision Makers,” has served on EQT’s board since 2008.
He is chairman of the corporate governance committee and is a member of its executive and management development and compensation committees. EQT’s corporate governance policy says it is the duty of the board of directors to serve as a fiduciary of the company.
Cary has bought several rounds of shares of EQT stock over the past few months. The largest was a purchase in June of 22,627 shares valued at $1,209,186.
According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Cary directly owns 28,000 shares in EQT. He indirectly owns more than 13,800. He earned more than $325,000 in cash and shares in 2016.
Cary did not immediately respond to a call to his cell phone to comment for this story.
EQT has been heavily involved with Marcellus Shale production in West Virginia. The company would be affected by state policy issues having to do with landowner and mineral owner rights, such as co-tenancy and joint development.
Tom Huber, president of the West Virginia Royalty Owners Association, said he’s accustomed to EQT exerting influence within the governor’s office — but he said the group he represents would like an even playing field.
“This is really no surprise. EQT had a strong presence in the governor’s office when Nick Casey was chief of staff,” Huber stated in response to a question about Cary’s role. “Bray Cary has strong connections to Senate leadership already and had involved himself behind the scenes on EQT’s joint development effort last year.
“That said, it would be wonderful if landowners and royalty owners were given at least equal consideration by the governor on natural gas development issues. Royalty owners are just as pro development as the drillers, but our belief is there is enough wealth in our gas reserves to make sure royalty owners, surface owners, gas companies, and West Virginia communities all benefit from this resource.”
Questions about Cary’s role in the governor’s office weren’t immediately address by communications director Butch Antolini or chief of staff Mike Hall.
They were asked via email to address Cary’s title, how long he had been in the position, whether there is an official job description and what it is and whether Cary has been participating in or leading meetings about policy.
Both the officials in the Governor’s office and EQT were asked to address how Cary would reconcile his fiduciary responsibility with EQT with his role at the governor’s office.
The Gazette-Mail obtained a confidentiality agreement signed by Cary and approved by Hall on Nov. 28.
There are still many questions unaddressed by Cary’s role, said House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, who spoke today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“I strongly believe as a public official — which the governor clearly is and now Bray Cary has made himself a public official of sorts — the primary thing you must do is to do what you can to instill public confidence in the citizens you represent. And I think this is just going in the opposite direction.”
Miley said the public perception of a conflict is hard to avoid in this case.
“Let’s talk about whose water will he be carrying as a public citizen volunteer,” Miley said. “In other words, EQT would certainly object if they thought he wasn’t going to be pursuing their interests. So as a shareholder you might want him there. But I don’t think it’s a board member for a corporation to be a public employee as well, working inside the governor’s office.”
Miley raised a variety of additional issues:
- “Is he subject to the Ethics Act? I don’t know.”
- “Is he an employee, or is he a volunteer — and what legal distinction does that make if he’s just a volunteer compared to an employee?”
- “Is he subject to FOIA requests? By that, I mean his private emails — because apparently he’s using his private email address. What about his call logs for the phones I assume he’s using for all of that. Public employees are subject to all of that. Does a private citizen volunteer, or a ‘special assistant’ become subject to that?”
- “What are the legal implications of any action that Bray Cary takes while in that office? Does he have a supervisory role when it comes to hiring and firing employees. If so, is he subject to being sued for any sexual harassment or discriminatory claims and does the Board of Risk and Insurance Management provide coverage for him?”
Miley concluded, “These are all questions that are unnecessarily raised because he doesn’t just go ahead and make himself an employee of the State of West Virginia, as well as not stepping off of boards.”
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who is close with Cary and who has sought Cary’s communications advice, defended Cary’s role in the governor’s office. Carmichael said a background of success should be viewed as an asset.
“From a talent perspective, Bray Cary has enormous contributions to make to West Virginia,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “Why wouldn’t we utilize all the skill sets that a native West Virginian has to offer to help move our state forward. My gosh, the last thing we need is to prohibit people from contributing to the State of West Virginia’s well-being and economy.”
Carmichael said almost everyone in public service has some other role or investment that could be scrutinized, but he said that shouldn’t prevent them from participating in public life.
“There are people that are in various walks of public service that are successful business people that are on various boards, whether it be a publicly held company or a very small private business. All of us have different aspects that have brought us to this point in life.
“For someone to want to give back their skills, talent and ability, why not embrace that? I think we need to do more of that in our state.”
Asked on “Talkline” about the possibility of Cary participating in policy discussions, such as on integrated leasing, Carmichael did not immediately accept the premise that Cary should leave the governor’s office or resign from the EQT board.
“If you put that standard in place, then I don’t know who is able to serve,” Carmichael said. “There are so many in a citizen Legislature, in any public service and elected offices — there are so many conflicts that one could attribute to any individual,” Carmichael said.