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Gianato out as Homeland Security director but remains as adviser

CHARLESTON — Longtime state official Jimmy Gianato, who has been wearing two hats, will soon be down to one.

Gianato’s deputy at the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Michael Todorovich, will soon be named the director.

Gianato will remain in the other job in which he has served, homeland security adviser.

“If there’s a major response like that Parkersburg fire, you’ll still see Jimmy out there,” said West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer in a telephone interview.

Hoyer said the job shuffle is part of a broader change in the structure of West Virginia’s Homeland Security division.

Hoyer said that division, which has worked closely with the National Guard, is being moved from under the Division of Military Affairs and Public Safety to the oversight of the Adjutant General.

That has also come with a physical move of emergency management personnel from the basement of the state Capitol to West Virginia National Guard facilities at Coonskin Park in Kanawha County.

Gianato will be giving up the director’s role but will remain in an adviser’s role meant to think ahead on issues like hazard mitigation and federal funding, Hoyer said.

“Most of Jimmy’s responsibilities will be focused on how do we identify what Congress is going to do with mitigation dollars and how do we in West Virginia get our fair share of that to make sure ‘If we clean out these streams it prevents these hundred houses from flooding the next time,’” Hoyer said.

The move will be made official through a letter from the Governor’s Office identifying Todorovich as the new homeland security director, Hoyer said.

The Adjutant General’s office also will work to identify whether there needs to be legislative action to make the move of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to a new agency structure official.

The broader agency restructuring has been discussed for months, Hoyer said.

Emergency Management was having problems with upkeep in the Capitol basement, including mold problems, he said. The agencies also were looking at how they could work together more efficiently.

During preparations to help with Hurricane Florence response, Governor Justice was on site at the National Guard and gave a go-ahead, Hoyer said.

“The governor has a particular interest in focusing on mitigation and prevention and removal of dilapidated structures and those components that cause potential for flooding that, if we correct them, goes away,” Hoyer said.

“So with that focus, what he tasked me to do was to take these entities under the Adjutant General’s department and start to shape the focus where we can do more on prevention and mitigation.”

That prompted the change in Gianato’s job description, Hoyer said.

Gianato started as director of West Virginia’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in 2005, early in the Manchin administration.

He stayed on through the Tomblin administration and the early part of the Justice administration, despite being associated with a series of controversies.

In 2012, Gianato was at the center of controversy over the state’s purchase of $24 million in internet routers, outside normal bidding procedures.

The same year, reporters revealed that Gianato’s son was being paid for work out of a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant that Gianato was overseeing.

Earlier this year, a state legislative audit concluded the Homeland Security agency could not locate $254,000 in trailers and other equipment.

Also this year, the mayor of Clendenin was among those claiming red tape was suppressing help to repair damage from the 2016 floods. Mayor Shana Clendenin said she had reached out to Homeland Security with no success.

When Gov. Jim Justice was trying to fix problems with long-term flood relief earlier this year, Gianato was among the officials who sat with the governor for his announcement, pledging to improve progress.

During that press conference, Justice was asked if he has faith in Gianato’s work. The question specifically referred to Homeland Security’s inability to keep track of equipment.

The governor described Gianato as among those doing great work for the state, although Justice didn’t specifically address Gianato’s track record.

“The best answer, I can possibly give you is just this. There are really good people that have tried in their own way to do what’s right. They’ve tried to keep up with and everything else,” Justice said.

“If they think they’re doing a good job and they’re not, then we discover, and we move forward. We absolutely need to watch every dime.”