Recovery

Clendenin, W.Va., Mayor Says She Told State It Left $13 Million in Federal Flood Recovery Funds on the Table

Among other failures, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management did not apply for more than $12.7 million in available FEMA funds earmarked for disaster management costs including grantees’ salaries, benefits, and supplies.

by Jake Zuckerman, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. / December 12, 2018
Teenager Cameron Zobrist stands next to a memorial wall honoring eight local flood victims Monday, June 5, 2017, in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. Zobrist came up with the idea for the wall for an Eagle Scout project. It was built through donated material, money and labor. A dedication ceremony for the memorial is set for June 23, 2017. Twenty-three people were killed in the floods statewide in June 2016. AP/John Raby

(TNS) - West Virginia left nearly $13 million in federal funds on the table that could have been used to hire staff to better respond to major flooding.

Shana Clendenin, the mayor of Clendenin, told state lawmakers Tuesday that she asked officials and legislators about the grant program, in person, in November 2017, to no avail.

On Sunday, more than one year after the meeting, the Legislative Auditor’s Office published a report stating, among other failures at the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, it did not apply for more than $12.7 million in available FEMA funds earmarked for disaster management costs including grantees’ salaries, benefits, and supplies.

“It was my position that the state had the resources available to hire experts to ensure the financial welfare of West Virginia and its sub-recipients,” Clendenin said Tuesday. “The direct response was less than adequate and they seemed puzzled by our questions.”

She provided lawmakers with a letter she sent to Justice stating that on Nov. 13, 2017, she met with Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Jeff Sandy, then-speaker of the House Tim Armstead, then-DHSEM director Jimmy Gianato, and staff of both Gov. Jim Justice and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

According to the letter, all parties discussed the available FEMA funds (referred to within DHSEM as “Category Z” funds) specifically.

The state has only applied for $1.1 million in Category Z funding, of $13.8 million available, according to the audit. The letter is not dated, though Clendenin said she sent it in June.

“I think [Mayor Clendenin] has been on target for a while, unfortunately I don’t think we’ve been listening to her very well,” said Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, whose district oversees jurisdictions with mayors who he says have expressed similar frustrations with him.

Clendenin’s testimony came amid a trickle of revelations that FEMA penalized West Virginia for non-compliance by placing it under a “manual reimbursement” protocol — a punitive procedure the state shares only with Puerto Rico. Likewise, the audit found Gianato failed to inform the cabinet secretary of the sanction. Gianato has cited inadequate staffing as the root cause of poor sub-recipient monitoring that triggered the action.

Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, asked Gianato about the Category Z funds in a Nov. 27, 2018 committee hearing, prior to the release of the state audit.

There, Gianato, who directed DHSEM for 13 years, initially said he was “somewhat” aware of the available funds after they were described to him. He said it was his understanding the state would have about $8 million or $9 million available, although he went on to say it could potentially have been as much as $11 million available.

In an interview Tuesday, Jeffries said that Gianato — who is no longer the DHSEM director but is still on the state payroll as the governor’s homeland security adviser — not applying for the money was “bewildering” and he should have known about it.

“If you’re the director of [DHSEM], and he was kept on as an adviser, I would think he would have that knowledge of that grant money,” he said. “I didn’t exactly get the answer I wanted to hear.”

A DMAPS spokesman declined to comment on Clendenin’s letter Tuesday.

The West Virginia National Guard has since taken on an oversight role of DHSEM. When asked whether Gianato would continue in his advisory capacity, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said in the next 30 to 60 days there would be a “transition of staffing.”

When asked about other findings in the audit, including news that Gianato did not pass on word to the cabinet secretary that FEMA penalized West Virginia for regular and ongoing noncompliance, he said he’s focused on fixing things going forward, not getting bogged down in the past.

“Clearly there were issues within the department, and the governor has tasked me and the National Guard to address those and we’re moving forward with those, and with those will come some changes in personnel and leadership,” he said.

Through a spokesman, Sandy said “he anticipates an announcement on staffing changes within the next 90 days.”

In an interview Sunday, current House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said his understanding was that Gianato would lose his position almost immediately.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at

jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-4814 or follow

@jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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©2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

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