2 people sue separate W.Va. agencies for whistleblower rights violations
Suits allege that they were harassed and ostracized when they reported alleged misappropriations
By Zac Taylor
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two people who worked for separate Kanawha County agencies filed lawsuits this week alleging that they were harassed and ostracized when they reported alleged misappropriations.
Sam M. Hope II, the former general manager of the Kanawha County Public Service District, and Laura Wilson, the former director of operations at Kanawha County Metro 911, claim their rights under state whistleblower laws were stripped.
Hope was fired as general manager of the public service district on Sept. 13. According to his lawsuit, filed Tuesday, Hope had complained to the state Ethics Commission and to the state Public Service Commission "concerning illegal, unethical and, or improper practices occurring at KCPSD."
Hope said that David Howell, the chairman of the agency, approved and revised unethical, nepotistic hiring policies and terminated other employees for pointing out financial irregularities, like hidden or missing funds, the suit states.
Howell, reached by phone, declined to comment.
According to Wilson's lawsuit, during an administrative meeting in November 2011, former Metro 911 director Carolyn Karr Charnock told Wilson that the agency had a "slush fund" for selected employees.
The fund consisted of a bogus $450 monthly rent payment paid out of the Office of Emergency Services budget. The fund, according to the lawsuit, went to pay for personal trips by select personal and at least one county commissioner knew it existed.
Wilson took personal leave on Jan. 24 to see a therapist, allegedly because of depression caused by a hostile work environment at the center, the suit states. A month later, she met with Rick Atkinson, a member of the metro board of directors and told him of her concerns, the suit states.
"Atkinson reported in effect that he had met with Commissioner [Kent] Carper three or four years prior about the situation with Ms. Charnock and no action was taken," the lawsuit, which is also authored by Clifford, states.
Atkinson hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation on behalf of the board of directors on Wilson's allegations of the hostile work environment. Wilson told Atkinson that she did not want to be reassigned to the office, but when Charnock resigned in July "the major impediment of plaintiff's return to metro was eliminated," the suit states.
When Wilson returned to work in August, her request to return to her original post as director of operations was denied, the lawsuit states. She was sent to do data entry work at the Kanawha County Courthouse as a quality assurance manager, the lawsuit states. She is still on the county payroll.
Johnnie Brown, the lawyer for the county, said that he could not comment on personnel matters, but said that allegations that the call center misused funds "appear to be incorrect."
"The use of monies for that fund have always passed the auditor's inspection of them," he said.
"With that said, we are currently looking at it in great detail to make sure there has not been any misuse of taxpayers monies. We will certainly immediately correct and discipline individuals who need to be disciplined."
Brown said he was not yet aware of the lawsuit involving the public service district.