For many, their view of government has fallen from a healthy skepticism to downright mistrust. I tend to give public servants the benefit of the doubt, but I realize that many West Virginians expect the worst from government.
Perhaps they have lived through West Virginia’s sordid political corruption or they simply believe that politicians are in it for themselves. Whatever the reasons, there is growing pressure on our public servants to be beyond reproach.
And that brings us to the unique role of Bray Cary as an unpaid volunteer in Governor Jim Justice’s office. West Virginians best know Cary as the former owner of West Virginia Media television stations and host of the TV interview program Decision Makers.
Cary has sold the company and has now moved into an advisory role with the Justice administration where he is providing guidance on communications and messaging, clearly something Carey is qualified for, given his background.
However, it gets more complicated because Cary is also a major shareholder in EQT, a large oil and gas company that operates in West Virginia, and he sits on the company’s board. As such, he has a fiduciary responsibility to look out for the best interests of the company.
EQT has been pushing the legislature to make industry-changing adjustments in the law impacting drilling. The measures, commonly known as co-tenancy and joint development, are controversial and sometimes pit the industry against mineral and surface rights holders.
None of this is to suggest that Cary has moved into the Capitol to act on behalf of EQT. “I’m not on the take,” Cary told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “My loyalty is to the state of West Virginia, period.”
However, David McMahon, a lawyer who represents surface and mineral owners, worries about a potential conflict. “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,” McMahon told MetroNews.
Notably, it does not appear Cary’s role would be covered by the state Ethics Act since he is not on the state payroll and does not qualify as a lobbyist, something that House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) believes can be corrected.
“I think there’s an easy way to resolve this,” Miley told MetroNews. “Make Bray an employee, pay him some de minimis amount and then he’s subject to the ethics laws that apply to everyone else in the Governor’s office.”
Public trust of institutions, such as government and the media, is built on a foundation of full disclosure and the avoidance of conflicts of interest. In that spirit, you should know that our company, West Virginia Radio, included Cary’s media company in its wide-ranging lawsuit over media rights with WVU. A settlement led WVU to make “significant, ongoing improvements” to monitoring bid procedures.
That’s part of the record, and you can use the information in deciding whether the motivation of this column is to take a shot at Cary or simply draw attention to a potential conflict of interest in the Governor’s office that could impact significant legislation in the upcoming session.
Public trust of government is already at an all time low. Sunlight is a healthy sanitizer. Cary and the Justice administration should look for ways to improve government credibility, not create more doubt.