Justice SBA appointee questioned by senators concerning possible conflict

By Jeff Jenkins
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state Senate Confirmations Committee questioned Gov. Jim Justice appointee state School Building Authority Executive Director Frank “Bucky” Blackwell Friday about a possible conflict of interest between Blackwell, his daughter and Tennessee-based Energy Systems Group.

Blackwell, a former Wyoming County school superintendent and former member of the House of Delegates, explained the relationship after being questioned repeatedly by Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio) and Sen. Greg Boso (R-Nicholas).
According to Blackwell, Energy Systems Group, a company that helps reduce energy consumption, did work for the Wyoming County school system around 2008. He said sometime later he ran into a representative of the company at a conference who said they had no representative in West Virginia. Blackwell said he told the man he should talk with his daughter Audra Blackwell. The company eventually hired her.

Ferns asked Blackwell what he would do if Energy Systems Group bid on energy efficiency work in projects overseen by the School Building Authority.

“If that would be the case I would recuse myself from that process. But you know at times we all have conflicts of interest, as you know for different things, but you have to do the right thing at the time that occurs, of course I would do that,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell also owns Blackwell Properties, LLC in Wyoming County. He told senators Energy Systems Group leases office space from him and his daughter works in the office. He initially told committee members his daughter was not part of the business but when questioned further by Boso, who read the members of the LLC from the Secretary of State’s website, Blackwell admitted his daughter was part of the group.

“So therefore she is part of your corporation–is that correct?” Boso asked.

“She’s listed on that document but she really doesn’t have anything to do with it other than she rents a piece of property,” Blackwell answered.

“You would agree with me that that is a business relationship?” Boso continued.

“Well, from that viewpoint I would say that it is, yes,” Blackwell said.

Ferns said there appears to be a significant conflict.

“A company that’s done work with Wyoming County Schools while you were superintendent. You acknowledged that while you were superintendent you assisted in getting your daughter a job there. They actually rent space from you from a company you own. And you are aware the School Building Authority intends to do more energy-saving projects into the multimillions of dollars moving forward? Would you agree that’s a pretty significant conflict?” Ferns asked.

“If my daughter’s company would actually pursue any contracts it could be a potential conflict, yes,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell repeated he would recuse himself from any consideration of Energy Systems Group.

The committee will vote on Blackwell’s confirmation at a later date. Ferns may have tipped his hand in a tweet Friday after the governor criticized him.

“No time for the Gov’s school yard threats. I’m busy airing out the gross conflicts of interest with his appointees,” Ferns said.

The committee also interviewed state Lottery Director Alan Larrick and state Labor Commissioner David Mullins Friday.