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State tax commissioner to seek private-sector job

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After nearly three years as the head of the state tax department, state Tax Commissioner Craig Griffith is preparing to step down to take a job in the private sector.

Griffith confirmed last week he was beginning to look for potential openings at local accounting and law firms.

"I just felt like it was time to go back into the private sector," he said in a phone interview Friday.

Griffith, 38, has been with the tax department for more than 5 years.

He started as deputy tax commissioner and chief of staff in June 2007. He took over as acting tax commissioner in March 2010 after former commissioner Chris Morris left for the private sector.

Former Gov. Joe Manchin officially appointed Griffith to the commissioner role on June 30, 2010.

Prior to joining the department, Griffith spent seven years in the private sector, working as a tax consultant and associate attorney at local law and accounting firms.

After five years leading the state government side of the tax office, Griffith said he was ready to return to private work.

"You can't do this forever," he said.

"I've greatly enjoyed this; I've worked with two great governors and several top-notch secretaries of revenue. It's an immeasurable experience for me."

But Griffith's desire to return to the private sector had a slight complication.

State ethics laws prohibit public officials from seeking jobs with businesses or firms that they or their department regulates. As tax commissioner, Griffith regulates every tax-paying business and organization either headquartered in or doing business in the state.

Early this month, Griffith wrote state Ethics Commission Executive Director Theresa Kirk seeking an exemption from this rule. Griffith noted that he had not begun searching for another job but would do so immediately if granted the exemption.

Kirk approved a temporary extension Nov. 9, and the full Ethics Commission will vote to grant a full exemption at its regular meeting in December.

Griffith said Friday he was still in the beginning stages of his job search and hadn't applied for any specific jobs yet.

Though he was granted an exemption to begin a job search, Griffith will still have to abide by other ethics laws that apply to public officials.

That includes laws barring him from registering as a lobbyist or representing a private firm before the tax department for one year after leaving the office.

In addition to his role as tax commissioner, Griffith also serves as chairman of the West Virginia Municipal Bond Commission, secretary of the West Virginia Economic Development Authority and a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Project Executive Committee.

Looking back over the past five years, Griffith said the state has been successful at improving the way taxpayers work with the state through investments in the e-filing process and reforming the business registration process.

The agency has also worked with state officials to help lower business and sales taxes in recent years. He said those efforts have benefited the state's economy and improved the business climate.  

"I think from our perspective, we've worked well with the business community," he said. "While we can't respond to everything they've asked for, we do take account a lot of what they say in restructuring our tax code."

Griffith said that experience on both the state side and the business side of the tax system will help him in the future.

"It's nice having experience on both sides," he said. "You get a sense of the pressures and issues that arise on both sides of the tax department.

"You get a sense of how passionate many of those people are about their jobs, and you don't always get that sense in the private sector," he said. "You realize what pride they take in what they do."

Griffith grew up Ripley and graduated from Ripley High School in 1993 and graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law in 2000. He lives in Charleston with his wife, Kelly, and daughters, Julia and Sydney.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. 


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