The Telecommuting Governor

Governor Jim Justice lives in Greenbrier County, but the state Capitol is 110 miles away in Charleston, and that’s a problem.

Article 7, Section 1 of the West Virginia Constitution speaks to where the state’s Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture and Attorney General must live while they are in office.

“They shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office, keep their public records, books and papers pertaining to their respective offices, and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law,” reads the section.

That requirement is reinforced by state law. West Virginia Code Chapter 6, Article 5, Section 4 deals with the residence of state officers. It also says that the Governor and members of the Board of Public Works “shall reside at the seat of government during their term in office.”

The language in the state Constitution and state code is unequivocal. One of the official duties of West Virginia’s Governor is to reside at the State Capital.  Justice does not, and he bristles at the suggestion that he must.

He opened a recent press conference with a detailed explanation of how he is saving the state money by not living at the Governor’s mansion. He listed on a whiteboard tasks that do not have to be done for him since he lives elsewhere: “Don’t need to do laundry, cook, make bed, clean bathroom, drive me everywhere” or blow money on mansion parties.

So Justice can, in fact, be credited for his public office frugality. However, that does not mitigate the legal issue of his residence.  In addition, there is the simmering complaint by Justice’s critics that he just doesn’t show up for work enough.

That criticism really gets under Justice’s skin. “When you imply that I’m not working, that really gets my stuff. I know none of you have a clue how much I work and how much I do, what I do.”  Justice argues that he works 24/7 and is constantly available by phone.

Now this issue may be coming to a head.  Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton) has filed suit in Kanawha County Circuit Court to try to force Justice to move to Charleston.  Sponaugle says in his filing, “Petitioner (Sponaugle) is concerned about Respondent’s (Justice’s) habitual absenteeism and its effect on the poor productivity of state government and declining morale among many state workers due to it.”

While the language in the state Constitution and state code is clear, it may be argued that it is antiquated.  It was ratified in 1872, before computers, smart phones, telephones and automobiles. Telecommuting is an increasingly popular way to work.

The Governor might also argue that it does not matter where he does the state’s business, as long as the work gets done. Perhaps the “seat of government” is where the Governor happens to be at any time, as long as he is in communication with the executive branch.

Additionally, would a judge be willing to order the Governor to move to Charleston?  Would the judge fine Justice for every day he sleeps in Lewisburg instead of the Governor’s mansion?

Telecommuting has been described as the future of work, and there are even studies showing people who work from home are more productive.  However, there remains the not insignificant legal requirement of our Governor to live at the seat of government, and right now Justice’s address is not Charleston.

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