CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State officials have announced that the Clay County Development Corporation director who was removed from her job after a social media post likening first lady Michelle Obama to an “ape in heels” won’t be returning to work after all.
Also, Appalachian Area Agency on Aging will take over day-to-day management of Clay County Development Corporation for six months, according to a statement released by Jessica Tice, spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Clay County Development Corporation has been providing services to low-income and elderly residents through state and federal contracts.
Robert Roswall, the commissioner of the state Bureau of Senior Services, was in Clay County this morning to tell the remaining staff about the latest developments.
“This was the best opportunity to make things right for people here,” Roswall said during an interview today on “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.
Roswall said the Facebook status update that Clay County Development Corp. director Pamela Taylor posted in November caused other concerns about the way the agency was run to start pouring in to state officials.
“I think that comment opened the door,” Roswall said today. “That’s normally when other people start telling you other things going on.”
Red flags for state officials included lack of response to Freedom of Information Act requests, meetings that should have been open, and the lack of a nondiscrimination policy to guide interactions with minority customers of the agency’s services.
“One of the priorities of our federal money is to target low-income minority seniors,” Roswall said. “They do not have a nondiscrimination policy for their consumers.”
Today, Tice stated the six months of management by Appalachian Area Agency on Aging should provide time to put Clay Development Corporation on a stable path.
“This six-month time period will give the CCDC an opportunity to make any management or governance changes necessary to ensure the entity is in full contractual compliance with the state of West Virginia,” Tice stated.
“Following the state’s request for specific assurances that the CCDC is following anti-discrimination policies, we have been assured that Pamela Taylor has been removed from her position as CCDC director.”
Taylor stirred up a firestorm in mid-November with a Facebook post following Donald Trump’s election as president.
The post read: “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
The post received local, national and international criticism, and Taylor was removed from her job.
The president of the development corporation’s board earlier this month wrote a letter to the state Bureau of Senior Services saying Taylor would be returning to work Dec. 23.
State officials then responded with an announcement that the agency’s nondiscrimination policy and its contractual dealings with state agencies would be under review.
Clay County Development Corp’s 2015 federal income tax return shows that it brought in almost $2 million that year, almost entirely through public support.
The tax return shows that Taylor, whose prior job was cosmetologist, was making $82,926 a year, a salary set by the agency’s board.
“We couldn’t see that things could be straightened out without making some type of changes,” Roswall said.
There were reports that two of Taylor’s sisters who also worked for the agency had been removed from their jobs. Roswall couldn’t confirm those reports.
“The two sisters are not here today,” Roswall said. “I don’t know if they have been removed also.”
The Clay County Development Corp. board of directors agreed Friday, the day Taylor originally was set to return to work, to allow Appalachian Area Agency on Aging to take over management responsibilities.
“The agreement, which was approved by the CCDC board of directors this past Friday, includes oversight of work carried out by the CCDC as part of state contracts to provide essential services for senior citizens in Clay County,” Tice stated.
Appalachian Area Agency on Aging already takes on a range of responsibilities for senior programs West Virginia. It funds aging programs for seniors in thirteen counties in southeastern West Virginia. It also contracts with county aging programs to provide nutrition programs, transportation, and other social services.
It also operates Aging and Disability Resource Centers in Princeton and Fairmont.
Ramona Stanley of Appalachian Area Agency on Aging will lead the process in Clay County. Much of the current staff there will remain, but Stanley also will bring in some of her own staff for guidance.
“She has total authority to do what’s necessary to get things in the right order,” Roswall said.
Roswall also said there will likely be changes to the board of directors at Clay County Development.
“We hope some of the citizens in Clay County will be willing to volunteer to spend some time,” Roswall said.
He said the board had been in the dark about some of what was wrong in Clay County.
“The problem always comes from directors that are not telling the board everything that’s going on,” Roswall said. “Having met with the board, there were things that the board did not know.”
The Tomblin administration is in its last few weeks. A couple of weeks ago, Governor-elect Jim Justice was asked whether he thinks Taylor should be reinstated to her job.
“I don’t know all the particulars about her job. If I were to say, I would say no,” Justice said then. “I just think it’s just outrageous. That situation is just outrageous.”