Justice names friend, employee as acting transportation secretary

Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography Byrd White, acting secretary of the Department of Transportation, watches from the back as Gov. Jim Justice announces him as the replacement for Tom Smith, who was fired Sunday.

CHARLESTON — The person taking the place of Tom Smith, the recently fired secretary of the Department of Transportation, is a friend, a former employee and a campaign donor to Gov. Jim Justice.

During a press conference Wednesday to announce additional funding for secondary road maintenance, Justice announced Byrd White will serve as the acting transportation secretary to replace Smith, who was fired Sunday.

“I’ve got a really good friend,” Justice said about White. “He worked for us a long time ago. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s super smart. He’s just on his game. He knows what in the dickens is going on all the time. He’ll work until the cows come home.”

Justice said White is ready to get started in getting the Department of Transportation to begin to focus on the secondary road needs in the state.

“I have instructed him to go in today with his team and begin working,” Justice said.

According to his LinkedIn profile, White most recently was the special assistant to the state tax commissioner. He also is a member of the Raleigh County Commission.

He has an associate’s degree in engineering from West Virginia Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s in business from Christopher Newport College. He also is a Certified Public Accountant.

White has several connections to Justice. He is a former senior vice president for James C. Justice Companies. He was the manager for the Black Knight Country Club in Beckley, which Justice sold to the city. In October 2015, White donated $1,000 to Justice’s Democratic primary race for governor.

“He knows numbers and knows business,” Justice said. “He knows how to manage from the standpoint of being a COO or a CEO. He surely knows people and has the ability to know when he has the wool being pulled over his eyes. He’s not a civil engineer, but right now we have a lot of really competent people there.”

On Wednesday, Justice announced a plan to divert a small amount of money from the $913 million of first round general obligation bonds from the Roads to Prosperity program for use in secondary road maintenance projects. The funding would come by redesigning pending projects to save money and accepting bids for projects that come in underneath projected costs.

Part of that plan includes using pay-as-you-go funding generated by the increased fuel taxes and Division of Motor Vehicles fees passed a few years ago to pay the debt service for future Roads to Prosperity bonds. White said he needs more time to look how the department is funded, but he thinks the state can continue the Roads to Prosperity projects and the additional secondary road projects.

“I think we can, but I have to work on some numbers and see where the different revenue streams are,” White said. “I know we have a number of revenue streams coming in. They’re all different. We’ll look at how we can move some expenses. It’s going to take a few days.”

Justice would not confirm that Smith was fired after disagreeing on the use of road bond monies for secondary road maintenance. Justice did praise Smith for his service, but blamed differences of opinion for the parting of ways.

“Tom Smith is a good man and Tom Smith has done a good job,” Justice said. “He’s a good man, but we do have a differentiation of philosophy. Tom has been in the federal government for a long time. He’s attuned to doing big projects…we just can’t keep spinning the wheels. We have to go another way.”