Lawyer says 911 fund not misused
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - An attorney representing Kanawha County in a lawsuit that alleges the existence of a "slush fund" at the Metro 911 Center said records indicate there was no misappropriation of funds.
Laura Wilson, a former 911 operations director, filed a suit in Kanawha County Circuit Court alleging that her whistle blower rights were violated. She also said she was told of a slush fund that held money from rent payments made by the county's Office of Emergency Services.
She alleges that certain persons were permitted to draw from the fund for personal use, according to the suit on file at the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk's office.
Wilson alleges that then Metro 911 Director Carolyn Karr Charnock told her about the fund during a meeting last November.
The money was used for "whatever purposes the director (Charnock) saw fit," including personal trips, according to the complaint.
However, Johnnie Brown, an attorney representing Travelers Insurance, which is the county's insurance carrier, said a review of documents dealing with Metro 911 money does not indicate any misappropriation of funds.
Brown is an attorney with Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe.
The Office of Emergency Services does pay about $3,600 a year in rent to the Metro 911 Center for use of an office, Brown said.
That money is used for various expenditures such as trips to conferences and to Washington, D.C. to discuss grants with state representatives, according to documents provided by the Metro 911 Center.
The money also has been used to pay for meals at the Metro 911 Center during meetings, according to those documents.
An outdoor seating area with a gazebo was constructed with money from the fund. This project cost $4,642.
But the money is not being used for personal trips or expenditures, Brown said.
"The allegation of a slush fund is a statement that is obviously very, very inaccurate," he said.
"Often people try to use inflammatory language in a lawsuit, and a review of the records just doesn't support the allegations," he said.
Mike Clifford, the attorney who filed the lawsuit for Wilson, did not return calls seeking comment.
Charnock left her position as Metro 911 director effective Sept. 4. She also denied the allegations of a slush fund at the department and pointed out that Metro 911 accounts are audited every year.
"And they never found the first thing," she said.
Charnock declined to comment on other allegations in the suit, saying the litigation was pending. She referred all other questions to Brown.
"It's best to have one voice when you're involved in litigation," she said.
Charnock now serves as public relations director for the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority.
Brown said the fund was definitely not used for any personal trips. Money from the fund has been used to pay for three trips since 2007, according to documents provided by the county.
The first was on Aug. 8, 2007, to Washington, D.C. for a visit with the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
The documents do not indicate how many people made the trip, but a total of $1,860 was spent and a $1.5 million federal grant was secured, Brown said.
Another trip occurred on May 14, 2009, when officials traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify about an incident at the Bayer CropScience Plant. This trip cost a total of $3,518.
An explosion at the Institute plant in August 2008 killed two workers.
Eight people, including Charnock and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, made that trip. The fund was used to pay for seven hotel rooms at $359 each, according to the documents. Carper did not use money from the fund to pay for his room.
All but Carper also received $128 per day for meals and other expenses during the trip, and two people were paid gas money.
A trip to Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 24, 2009, cost the Metro 911 Center $748. Brown believes this trip was related to a ham radio conference.
"They were checking out new equipment to keep up with what's new," Brown said.
The fund also has been used to pay for meals during conferences and for cubicles at the 911 Center, according to the documents.
Carper reimbursed the fund $7 for a sandwich eaten during a luncheon at which the Bayer CropScience plant was discussed, the documents show.
Wilson also alleges that her duties have been stripped without due cause and she has been exiled to a data entry job at the county courthouse.
Brown said she now work for the Office of Emergency Services at the courthouse and her responsibilities include some data entry, but she also has communications duties to improve the operations at the center.
However, she is no longer training dispatchers.
"But her duties are similar to what she was doing," Brown said.