Don’t settle: Lawmakers must improve oversight
Lawmakers must improve oversight
Was West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner acting illegally when he fired and replaced 16 employees in his agency, not long after taking office in January 2017?
It is a question to which Mountain State residents deserve an answer — but we may never get it.
Pointing out the people were “at-will” employees under the law, Warner has said he had every right to terminate them and replace them with better workers. But 12 of them filed lawsuits against Warner, arguing they were fired improperly.
In September, four of those who sued were handed a $1 million settlement by the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management. Warner has said BRIM officials plan to settle the remaining cases with settlements totaling about $3 million.
There will be no trials under that scenario.
Warner is furious — and justifiably. He wanted the cases to go to trial, where he believes he would have prevailed.
Settlements in such situations do not include admissions of wrongdoing. Still, handing out $4 million in taxpayers’ money will be perceived by many as admitting Warner was in the wrong.
Obviously, this is an extremely political situation. Giving Warner’s enemies ammunition such as that contained in the BRIM settlements probably would be harmful to his public service career.
But the settlements are not unusual. Each year, BRIM settles many claims against the state without allowing them to go to trial. That happens frequently in the insurance industry, where the rationale is that, guilty or not, going to trial would be more costly than simply settling a case.
Each year, BRIM spends about $12.5 million that way, according to Warner.
That is an enormous disservice to taxpayers for a couple of reasons. First, it may encourage frivolous lawsuits against state officials. Some who may want a nice payday may decide that netting a fat settlement is worth filing a lawsuit — whether they are in the right or not.
Second, settlements often are enormous disservices to the officials involved. Without ever providing an answer to whether they were in the wrong, they leave the impression of guilt.
Warner is right to want the Legislature to do something about that. There should be more oversight regarding BRIM, to prevent settlements such as those in his case.