MORGANTOWN — The state Ethics Commission leveled nepotism charges against the manager of the River Road and Paw Paw-Route 19 public service districts (PSD). A public hearing to consider the charges is set for June 25, in Charleston.
The charges against Michelle Malone, manager of both districts, are described in a Probable Cause Order and a Statement of Charges and Notice of Hearing prepared by the Probable Cause Review Board.
The order lists two counts. The first alleges Malone “knowingly and intentionally used her public employment position for the private gain of her daughter, Kady Malone, an employee of the River Road Public Service District … by influencing or attempting to influence her daughter’s working conditions, benefits and compensation, participating in decisions affecting her daughter’s employment, working conditions and compensation, and supervising her.”
Kady Malone also works for the Paw Paw PSD.
The second count uses similar language regarding Malone’s husband, Charles Malone.
Malone did not respond to a request for comment. Her attorney could not be reached in time for this report.
The statement spells out the basis for the charges.
It notes that Malone operates both PSDs from her primary home and from an office in another building they own, the former Union Church, on Union Church Hollow Road. (PSD letterhead uses the old church address.)
The church building also contains an apartment that was occupied rent-free by Kady Malone until around December 2017. Kady Malone was, during the period in question, financially dependent on her parents.
Kady Malone works 20 hours per week as an office assistant, at $12 per hour. She was first hired in September 2012. The board voted for Michelle Malone “to pay someone” $10 per hour for five hours per month. In July 2013, the board approved increasing Kady’s monthly hours to 25. “Michelle Malone participated in and/or influenced the decision of the PSD,” the statement says.
In February 2014, Kady’s pay was raised to $12 per hour. That December, Michelle Malone’s sister-in-law, Sandy Malone, resigned from her PSD post, and the board approved giving Kady another 15 hours per week, bumping her monthly total to 80 hours. She was also given vacation and benefits.
Kady also started work for Paw Paw in 2012. In July 2016, her weekly hours were increased to
20 and her pay raised to $12 per hour; she also was given vacation and retirement benefits.
“Michelle Malone does not require Kady Malone to keep time sheets which reflect the number of hours devoted to each separate employment position.” In 2016, Kady received $12,480 from River Road and $9,840 from Paw Paw.
It also notes that Malone does not provide time sheets to the board. She enters the hours from employee time sheets into the payroll system and presents checks to the board for signatures.
The statement repeats the “knowingly and intentionally used her public employment position” phrase from the order but says instead, “used her pubic office for private gain” and does not refer to Kady’s gain.
Charles Malone was an independent contractor from 2004 until he was hired part-time, in January 2012. His title is system manager. He receives a minimum $24,000 per year, with a base salary of $12,000 and a minimum 40 hours per month at $25 per hour.
His actual hours vary.
In 2016, he received $27,893.83. He also works full time for the city of Morgantown and does his
PSD work on evenings and weekends.
Malone is responsible for reviewing his time-sheets and sometimes, but not always, initials them.
As with Kady, it says Malone “used her office for private gain” and does not refer to Charles’ gain.
The statement also notes that William Malone, Charles’s father, is a contractor for River Road PSD.
An October 26, 2016 letter from Malone in response to a Freedom of Information Act request lists Kady Malone as office assistant, meter reader and laborer for River Road PSD. In a December 2016 letter regarding Paw Paw, she is listed as just office manager.
In the October letter, Malone also names an Evan Malone as a meter reader and laborer. His family status is not mentioned in the correspondence, and he is not named at all in the Ethics Commission documents. Copies of the River Road general ledger show payments going to an Evan C. Yost.
Minutes from Paw Paw PSD board meetings list William Malone as system operator. In 2016, Malone told The Dominion Post, “The Board voted to convert William Malone to an employee; however, he chose to remain as a contractor and has continued to be paid as a contractor.” Board minutes indicate this discussion took place in 2014.
The Dominion Post first began looking into possible nepotism as the PSDs in 2016 in response to complaints from a River Road customer who has had ongoing grievances with the PSD. The Dominion Post contacted the Ethics Commission about possible nepotism in May 2017 but did not receive a direct answer; the commission chose to site state code without commenting on the Malones.
The Probable Cause Review Board action came in response to a filed complaint, but neither the customer nor the commission was permitted to verify the source of the complaint.
At a September 2017 PSD board meeting attended by the customer and The Dominion Post, Michelle Malone said she was called to meet with the Ethics Commission and with the Monongalia County Commission, which supervises the PSD.
The customer acknowledged that Malone’s meeting with the county took place as a result of a complaint by him. That meeting took place during an Oct. 4 workshop, which The Dominion Post could not attend.
Because of a technical malfunction, that meeting was not recorded. Commissioner Tom Bloom later told The Dominion Post that nothing resulted from the meeting.
Regarding the public hearing, if the charges are found true, the Ethics Commission website explains: “The Ethics Commission may impose one or more of the following sanctions … subsequent to a public hearing on a complaint: 1. Public reprimand; 2. Cease and desist order; 3. Restitution; 4. Fines not to exceed $5,000 per violation; 5. Reimbursement to the commission for the actual costs of investigating and prosecuting a violation. The commission also may recommend to the appropriate governmental body that a complaint respondent be terminated from employment or removed from office.”