September 5, 2012
Ethics agency gave green light to hiring of son

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Ethics Commission privately gave the go-ahead for West Virginia Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato's son to be paid through a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant that Gianato administers, according to emails released Wednesday.

The April 2011 ethics agency advice paved the way for a San Antonio-based company, Alexander Utility Engineering, to hire Adam Gianato as a technician for the stimulus project.

The ethics advice came with stipulations: The engineering firm "may not be given favoritism," and Jimmy Gianato must stay out of any decisions that affect the Texas company.

Jimmy Gianato heads West Virginia's "grant implementation team" that oversees the $126.3 million project, which is designed to expand high-speed Internet across the state.

In October 2011, Alexander Utility Engineering hired Adam Gianato as a $60-an-hour technician. The state tapped federal stimulus dollars to pay Adam Gianato's salary and overtime -- $73,000 over 4 1/2 months.

Alexander Utility Engineering is helping the state build 12 microwave emergency towers across West Virginia. The state expects to spend more than $30 million out of the $126.3 million grant on the towers and wireless equipment.

In March 2011, Drema Mace, former director of the state Office of Emergency Medical Services, contacted Ethics Commission Executive Director Theresa Kirk about Adam Gianato's expected hiring. 

Mace, whose office had a contract with Alexander Utility Engineering to build the towers with stimulus funds, notified Kirk that Adam Gianato had applied for a job with the San Antonio firm.

"Jimmy [Gianato] and I want to make sure there is no ethics issue," Mace wrote to Kirk.

Kirk later spoke with Mace, Gianato, Office of Emergency Services Communications Director Joe Gonzalez, and an Alexander Utility Engineering supervisor.

Mace said the emergency services office determined that the engineering firm needed more workers to complete the tower project -- and that the agency planned to hire the contract employees to inspect the towers once they were built, according to Kirk's email.

The engineering firm asked Gonzalez to suggest five people, and Gonzalez recommended Adam Gianato and several others, according to Kirk's email.

Gonzalez reports directly to Jimmy Gianato on the stimulus-funded tower project, according to an organizational chart. Gonzalez heads the project's "towers team."

"Mr. Gianato did not recommend his son or seek to influence his hiring," according to Kirk's email.

Gonzalez told Kirk that he recommended Adam Gianato for the technician job "based upon his experience." Gonzalez said Adam Gianato had volunteered for emergency communications projects during the Bridge Day festival in Fayette County, and after a flood in Raleigh County.

"Mr. Gonzalez stated he was also impressed that the son, on his own dime, took training courses related to this technology," Kirk wrote.

An Alexander Utility Engineering representative told Kirk that "he, in no way, has felt pressure to hire Mr. Gianato's son," according to Kirk's email.

Kirk said that Gianato also contacted the National Telecommunication & Information Administration, the federal agency that distributed the $126.3 million grant, about his son's hiring. The NTIA told Gianato "the hiring is permissible so long as Gianato is not the person negotiating contracts with Alexander Utility Engineering," Kirk wrote.

Kirk subsequently concluded that the state Ethics Act would not prohibit the state from using stimulus funds to pay Adam Gianato as a contract worker.

"Your office should not, however, advocate on behalf of Adam with Alexander Utility Engineering," Kirk wrote to Mace.

A National Telecommunications & Information Administration spokeswoman said Wednesday the federal agency is reviewing Adam Gianato's hiring.

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Copyright 2012 The Charleston Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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