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Wood County Commission defends grant coordinator Tiano

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission is defending its grant coordinator and how she has done her work for them.

The commission received a letter from the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) Director Bob Tipton. In the letter, Tipton asked for information regarding how grant coordinator Toni Tiano of Tiano-Knopp Associates was compensated for 1,920 hours of work as the GHSP regional coordinator for Jackson, Pleasants, Wood, Gilmer, Calhoun, Wirt, Doddridge, Roane and Ritchie counties.

Tiano was contracted by the Wood County Commission to fill that role, the letter stated.

Commission President Blair Couch said they have been involved in the program for around 20 years. Tiano has been doing grant work for the county for many years in applying and filling out the paperwork.

Over the last year, the program changed how that work was done and Tipton brought in someone else to administer the grant.

“We have always used Toni Tiano,” Couch said. “She does a lot of grants for us.”

Usually her compensation has been through a flat fee while the GHSP was a timecard grant, he said.

The most recent grant award included 25 municipalities and counties which made Wood County’s portion around $1,000-$2,000. The Wood County Commission became the lead agency so checks came in to them and checks had to be written to other agencies.

“When they changed it, it did not go as smoothly as it did with Toni,” Couch said. “We decided not to participate going forward.”

The letter from Tipton requested an accounting of Tiano’s work outside of the 1,920 hours of work for the GHSP and how she was paid. He requested figures from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017 and Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018.

“Additionally, is there a report that lists the hours and times worked on ‘other’ grants outside the highway safety regional coordinator’s duties?” the letter asked. “If so, please provide that report/information as well. We will notify you in advance if any on-site monitoring or review is necessary.”

Couch said Tipton believed the commission was supplanting Tiano’s time to do other grants pro-bono or at no charge.

“That is not the case,” he said.

Couch said the timing of the letter was suspect as Tipton brought in someone last year to oversee that grant, but Wood County had to hire the individual and compensate him with county funds. County officials thought that person should have been hired as a state employee.

“We told him to hire your guy into the state,” Couch said, adding that was not how it ended up being done.

The county determined, after consulting with Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens, that they would not participate as the grant money was used for overtime for certain programs, like the child safety seat inspections.

For years, the county submitted the paperwork to the state through Tiano and it was approved, Couch said.

The person brought in by Tipton was submitting mileage bills, at the federal rate as opposed to the county or state rate, that the county would end up paying for.

“We were not comfortable with the paperwork we were submitting,” Couch said.

County Administrator Marty Seufer said the process was less cumbersome with Tiano as it was easier to keep track of the money and where it was going with her.

Couch wanted to know why this state program had to have a grant manager contracted by a local government entity.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said the county did not want what is effectively a state employee on its payroll.

Couch said Tiano was removed from the GHSP for no compelling reason after managing it for years.

“When they took her out of the loop, it became much more cumbersome and more difficult where it became easier not to participate anymore,” he said of the process becoming political.

Colombo said he felt the move by Tipton was political in nature and blaming the county for the outcome.

“That is not the case,” he said.

The commission is having Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure, as the commission’s attorney, to send Tipton a letter that if he wants further clarification he can appear before the county commission in an open hearing and they would discuss it.

“Mr. Tipton has brought politics into something that should never have been politics,” Couch said.

In other business:

* The commission reported its Regional Jail Bill was around $180,000 for October. After bills were reaching above $225,000 a month a couple of years ago, the county began auditing bills and finding savings through Wood County court coordinator Pam Brust. Colombo credited Brust with keeping costs under control. “If she didn’t do what she does it would go back up,” he said.

* The commission reappointed Roy Radabaugh to the Mineral Wells Public Service District Board.

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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