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Commuting agency official ignores advice to work in Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Manchin administration told the current head of the Department of Health and Human Resources that he should not be allowed to work in Charleston fewer than five days a week and lead a state agency, according to court records.

That condition cost current DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo the top job at the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity in 2010, according to a deposition given by a top Manchin official.

But the Manchin-era condition didn't stop Fucillo from ignoring the advice two years later, nor did Manchin-era thinking prevent the Tomblin administration from allowing Fucillo to lead the state's largest agency while working part of the week in Charleston.

This year, Fucillo led a large division of DHHR and then took the helm of the whole agency. The Tomblin administration apparently assented to Fucillo's flexible schedule, which allowed him to work part of the time from near his home in Clarksburg.

Fucillo has a wife and two sons and has said it's not possible for him to move to Charleston.

Fucillo's commute has cost the state several thousand dollars this year.  Fucillo told WCHS-TV in August that reimbursements for his trip ended after he and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office agreed they would "no longer be appropriate."

But the deposition also raises questions about how well Fucillo can manage DHHR, the largest state agency, without coming to Charleston five days a week.

Former Manchin Chief of Staff Jim Spears gave sworn testimony in May about Fucillo.

The testimony came in a mostly unrelated case involving a former official at the economic opportunity office. The office's former acting director, Kelly Davis, brought the lawsuit.

Davis accused the state of retaliating against her for raising issues about the allocation of grant money. But the state said Davis resigned after she refused to come to Charleston five days a week. Davis was then the agency's deputy director.

In a deposition, Spears talked about how Fucillo's refusal to work five days a week in Charleston also cost him a chance at a job at the Office of Economic Opportunity.

According to the deposition, former Gov. Joe Manchin asked Spears to consider Fucillo as a candidate to lead the office.

"I talked to him, (Deputy Chief of Staff Harry Bergstrom) talked to him, etcetera," Spears said, "and although he seemed like a very qualified person, he said that he needed to - or wanted to work out of his location in Clarksburg, Bridgeport or something part time of the week and part time in Charleston.

"And I said, 'Rocco, as much as this governor would like to help you because he believes you're a very competent and capable person, I need somebody that's going to be down in Charleston five days a week. That's my policy and I can't bend it for one, then have to bend it for others,'" Spears recalled.

"And so he said, 'I am very interested. If we could work that so that it's not five days a week, I'd be interested,' and I said, 'No, I'm sorry, we can't.'"

That was some time in fall 2010, according to court documents in the Davis case.

DHHR has a vastly larger budget and far more staff than the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was moved out of the Governor's Office after a summer 2011 audit found the agency mismanaged $38 million in federal stimulus money.

Earlier this year, Fucillo became the head of DHHR's Bureau of Children and Families, which administers most of the state's welfare programs. He was allowed to have a flexible schedule that did not require him to be in Charleston five days a week. The state also paid him several thousand dollars for his commute between a Clarksburg-area office near his home and Charleston.

Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said that "initial arrangement" was between Fucillo and then-DHHR Secretary Michael Lewis.

After Lewis stepped down because of health problems, Tomblin picked Fucillo to lead the agency.

The flexible schedule continued.

"This administration, because of the unfortunate departure of Secretary Lewis, allowed the flexibility (for) now-Secretary Fucillo to be based in North Central," Goodwin said on Friday, referring to the Clarksburg area.

However, she said Fucillo had "clear direction" that he was to be in Charleston "when his physical presence was needed."

On Friday, Fucillo and a DHHR spokeswoman were asked why the secretary sought and accepted a work schedule he had previously been told was not appropriate.

They were asked how often Fucillo is in the office each week. They were also asked about a report that Fucillo received travel reimbursements in 2009 and why they stopped.

In response, Fucillo sent a statement through a spokeswoman that did not answer any of those questions.

"As DHHR secretary, it is my job to provide leadership to our approximately 6,000 employees who work in 54 of the 55 counties in the state," Fucillo said through the spokeswoman.

"We provide much needed, public health and human services to improve the quality of life of every citizen of West Virginia. This responsibility takes me all over the state, whether to Kanawha or Raleigh; McDowell or Marion counties, as we help WV families thrive and grow. As the father of my own family, I understand the importance of this effort, and am available wherever I am needed to support the important work of DHHR."

But, regarding the report about 2009 travel reimbursements and why they stopped, Fucillo recently told WCHS-TV there was a change in Manchin administration policy.

"At that point I thought it was no longer appropriate for me since the change in policy to bill, so I made the determination myself not to bill anymore. And didn't. And that was the end of it," Fucillo said, according to a transcript of the interview. "Never had any discussion with anybody in the Manchin administration about my travel."

On Sunday, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that when Fucillo works out of the Clarksburg-area office, his administrative assistant still has to commute regularly from Charleston on the state's dime.

Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.rivard@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryrivard.

 


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