In February 2011, Charleston Real Estate Broker Howard Swint authored an op-ed column to the Charleston Gazette calling for the elimination of the West Virginia Secretary of States Office. Swint cited that, “nowhere in state government is there a greater waste of money through duplication than in this office.” He strategically dissected each division of the SOS and their responsibility (full article below) and points out how other state agencies either could or already handle those same duties.
Back in February, the op-ed piece left some readers shaking their heads at even the thought of eliminating one of the top agencies inside WV’s state government. Now, our source at the statehouse says the idea of either taking away some of the duties of the SOS (by assigning them to other state agencies) or completely dissolving the Secretary of States Office altogether, is being discussed behind statehouse closed doors.
Who could be in support of this reorganization? It’s reported that Howard Swints business associate and long-time friend, WV State Senate President (Pro-Temp) Brooks McCabe is one of the concerted efforts behind it all. Swint has worked closely alongside McCabe for years at West Virginia Commercial LLC (formerly McCabe-Henley LLC) and has been a staunch supporter of the senator in his political career. Swint worked with McCabe at the time of the op-ed and McCabe reportedly knew of its contents and supported the article.
Our source said that if McCabe does run as planned for the 2012 race for governor and is successful, he will be in a better position to implement such a plan. But, he has not given up on the idea either way. McCabe, a 12 year veteran in the state senate is also Chair of the Finance Committee and also a member on the Economic, Judiciary and Government Operation - Organization Committees.
Is McCabe the visionary to ramrod such an historic change in state government operation? Possibly, he has been the leading supporter of one other very controversial government consolidation known as “Metro Government.” He makes no qualms in his vocal push for cities and counties to move toward a consolidation of government and government services.
“We have too many counties, too many schools and school systems and they are too costly to fund,” according to the senator in a May 20, 2011 interview in Parkersburg WV. McCabe said many towns, cities and counties in West Virginia are coming under the gun financially to provide services to citizens and rather than bite the bullet and step toward consolidation, they are coming to the state for help.“We in the Legislature need to get our act together. And show some tough love,” he said. “Rather than subsidize, we have to say enough is enough.” Would that “tough love” belief also include state government too?
Even though the theory of consolidation in Metro Government is a far cry from stripping away or dissolving the entire states Secretary of States Office, this idea may be in the hands of someone (McCabe) who could be in a position to do so if the ends justify the means. “The fact that he is such a staunch supporter of the highly controversial county government consolidation and holding state government accountable for expenses; almost takes away some of the craziness of this whole concept of overhauling the Secretary of States Office altogether.”
Howard Swints February 2011 Article In The Charleston Gazette Reads As Follows:
“The time has come to eliminate the West Virginia Secretary of State Office. Nowhere in state government is there a greater waste of money through duplication than in this office. Consider first the Business Division where new and existing businesses register with the state as do corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships.
Virtually every bit of information collected here is also housed at the Tax Department where it should be collected in the first place. With the advent of the Business4WV.com website that integrates other business registration and licensing processes between state agencies, what little that remains with the Business Division could easily be consolidated with the Department of Commerce.
For business organization searches, the essence of why there is a Business Division in the office in the first place, you find the following disclosure, "The West Virginia Secretary of State's Office makes every reasonable effort to ensure the accuracy of information. However, we make no representation or warranty as to the correctness or completeness of the information."
Not exactly the solid foundation from which a legal process can be built. Same for the Database Searches and Online Services section where just about everything indexed in this division links over to another government agency whether the state tax department, 55 county clerks' offices or even the U.S. Postal Service.
There is also the Administrative Law Division that "serves as both archives and official clearinghouse for agency rules, notices, orders, decisions and other procedural documents." While ensuring that governmental subdivisions post open meeting notices in a timely fashion is important, this division is in essence a law library that could be consolidated at Legislative Services or even the Library Commission.
While there is an election Investigation Unit within the office, the burden for assuming legal action for voter fraud ultimately falls on county prosecutors where the activity took place. The absence of any meaningful actionable cases where the Investigation Unit uncovered voter fraud has resulted in the division being reduced to overseeing notary publics and private investigators.
But most importantly, the Secretary of State Office houses the Elections Division where in the first modern test of election laws stemming from the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, we learned that the office in effect does nothing other than render legally-irrelevant opinion. In fact, after all of the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over filling Byrd's unexpired term we found that the laws governing gubernatorial secession have also been neglected resulting in little more than political posturing from the state's "Chief Elections Officer."
The state Attorney General office proved far and away more competent in addressing legal opinion and if it weren't for the West Virginia Supreme Court the state would still be foundering. Let's face it; the Secretary of State Office has historically served as little more than a taxpayer- funded campaign headquarters for whom are in essence legal figureheads.” by Howard Swint-February 2011 Charleston Gazette.
When first reading that someone feels the need to eliminate a state agency altogether, it seems a bit much. But, after carefully considering the above op-ed column you may find yourself walking away thinking… “This makes sense.” In the same way that many people who first read this story will call it ridiculous, and then find themselves re-reading it and coming away saying it makes sense to transferring some duties of the SOS to other state agencies or eliminating the office altogether.
No one at the statehouse wants to go on record that there is consideration by some state government officials to actually restructure or eliminate the WV Secretary of States Office. Howard Swint, by himself is politically controversial and even considered a revisionary in his beliefs that changes are needed in government to correct, adapt and or improve its operation. Over the years he has taken a strong stance on government shortfalls, reckless spending and miss-management that a lot of people disagree with.
In this specific op-ed article, Swints college studies, political involvement, private and state government employment in Economic Development (bio linked below) tend to support his ideas and give credibility to the column. And, it appears that some influential lawmakers and other government officials are actually digesting his ideas enough so that our sources say there are “closed door meetings” going on and even a “feasibility study” being created.
This news-blog website has written several related stories about internal problems within the WV Secretary of States Office including candidate filing complaints, errors in their online business registration system, mis-managed public documents, voter problems, complaints against employees, and questions concerning the professionalism of SOS Natalie Tennant. It has been our contention that the responsibilities and duties of the SOS is far to encompassing for the office.
End Of Story... for now
West Virginia News
LinkedIn: Jack Swint
February 2011 Gazette Op-Ed Column
Howard Swint Bio
WV Senator Brooks McCabe
McCabe Support Of Metro Government
Brooks McCabes Blog
WV 2012 Budget
To Purchase Books Written By Jack Swint (click on link)