As of Friday evening, there have been no official announcements made by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office, the Governor’s office or any other state leader regarding a West Virginia First Foundation meeting that is reportedly being held on Monday, Nov. 6. (Win McNamee | Getty Images)
The West Virginia First Foundation — a nonprofit organization started earlier this year to distribute an expected $1 billion in opioid settlement funds — is reportedly holding its first meeting on Monday. No details, however, have been officially released concerning the meeting, where it will be or what it will entail.
According to reporting in The Marietta Times, Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce — one of 11 members who sits on the First Foundation board of directors — told the Wood County Commission this week that the nonprofit would be meeting at 9 a.m. on Monday in Charleston, and that he expected the meeting to be open to the public.
Tom Bloom, a Monongalia County commissioner, told West Virginia Watch on Friday that members of the board of directors were “sent information” detailing that a meeting would be held at 9:30 a.m. on Monday “in Charleston.” He did not have specifics on where the meeting would be.
As of Friday evening, there have been no official announcements made by the Attorney General’s office, the Governor’s office or any other state leader regarding the meeting.
John Mangalonzo, press secretary for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, said on the phone at 4:40 p.m. on Friday that he would “do some digging” to learn more about the meeting’s details.
C.J. Harvey, press secretary for Gov. Jim Justice, referred questions to the attorney general’s office.
Joyce did not return an email seeking more information. Several elected officials said Friday they had not heard anything about a meeting of the First Foundation until contacted for this story.
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the West Virginia First Foundation is not subject to open meeting laws that would require a public announcement posted for the meeting. In the memorandum of understanding for the organization filed by the Attorney General’s office, however, “transparency” is urged for all matters related to the foundation.
“The foundation, expert panel and any other entities under the supervision of the foundation, including the regions, shall operate in a transparent manner. Meetings should be open,” the memorandum reads.
While a private nonprofit, all members of the foundation’s board of directors were either appointed by Justice or elected by officials in regions across the state. The state hired a national search firm to find candidates for the executive director position, which has yet to be filled. Morrisey will appoint the executive director “after consultation” with the board.
The board is also responsible for appointing people to an expert panel to help distribute money to evidence-based programming meant to abate the drug epidemic in the state and support people with substance use disorder. That panel has also yet to be created.
To date, there are no bylaws in place for the First Foundation. Officials in at least Monongalia and Kanawha Counties have voiced concerns about the potential lack of transparency that could come with the organization’s nonprofit status.
During a meeting of local governments in Region 5 on July 12, Kanawha County Commissioner Lance Wheeler made a motion to have the region adopt the Open Meetings Act and send a message to the full board that it do the same. The motion passed with no nays heard.
“I want to make sure that we have the Open Meetings Act whenever the entire foundation is brought,” he said. “I think that we should have a motion to bring this forward to the foundation and make sure that there’s transparency amongst the foundation that the people can see where the money is spent. I think that is a good call.”
During a phone call Friday, Bloom expressed frustration at the confusion and lack of communication regarding the meeting.
“Right away this bothers me already,” Bloom said. “We want [the press] there. We really do. We were already worried about transparency here and we were told that there weren’t any meetings scheduled, but now I’m hearing yes there is.”
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