Flood committee votes to refer flood relief organization for investigation

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Joint Committee on Flooding typically relies on Jenny Gannaway, Executive Director of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (WVVOAD), as a trusted expert providing them information about what’s happening on the ground with disaster recovery across the state.

But following a 26-minute grilling by Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, of Gannaway today, the State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Flooding voted to refer her and the WVVOAD to the Committee on Special Investigations, the State Auditor, and legislative lawyers for further investigation. 

As reported by WCHS-TV and  WOWK-TV in late 2023, a former employee at WVVOAD, Benjamin Cisco, admitted to embezzling more than $870,000. Gannaway was placed on administrative leave by her board following those revelations in August 2022 and other accusations of misconduct against her. However, the board reinstated her in September 2022. 

Tarr pressed Gannaway on issues such as hiring her own family members, giving herself and her staff bonuses without proper authorization, misuse of federal funds, and taking items donated to WVVOAD for personal use. 

Gannaway denied some charges, admitted to others, and spent the bulk of her time focused on discussing WVVOAD’s disaster recovery efforts over the course of the last year. 

“We’ve got five more bridges in the que,” she testified. Those are in addition to more than 160 bridges which WVVOAD has constructed since 2016. 

“We have 81 cases we’re working with in Mercer County,” she added. “We continue to work in Kanawha County that had the flooding in August. We’ve got 99 cases there. We’ve purchased insulation and hot water heaters and things like that.” 

When Gannaway finished presenting, and with other business items concluded, Tarr said, “In light of the discussion with Ms. Gannaway, I’m not convinced that the funds that went through VOAD…were used appropriately.”

He then said, “I think this matter should be referred to the Committee on Investigations. Those state dollars that have been involved that were directly related to Gannaway’s supervision and probably the board as a whole should probably be referred to the state auditor…and also to the legislative auditor.”

In conclusion, he clarified, “The motion is that the committee make a referral to look further into this matter and the allegations that are circling around these funds.” 

In a voice vote, the motion passed unanimously. 

Gannaway has consistently testified before the Joint Committee on Flooding, where she appeared Sunday afternoon. Since 2016, she has been a staple of the committee, frequently speaking about efforts to assist residents in disaster recovery. WVVOAD acts as an umbrella organization, bringing together various private and volunteer groups. Among other responsibilities, they facilitate the building pf bridges, warehousing flood supplies, and helping to rebuild homes after disasters. 

Generally, Gannaway is lauded for her work and looked to by members of the committee for a detailed snapshot into what’s happening “on the ground” with disaster recovery. But the tone of today’s meeting was markedly different. 

Public comments by Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango and Governor Justice’s office both seem to indicate WVVOAD is under federal investigation currently, but WVVOAD has said they are not aware of that. 

WVVOAD and Gannaway have both been central figures in flood recovery since 2016. Following turmoil over housing, former W.Va. National Guard head Gen. James Hoyer put WVVOAD in charge of the largest segment of home rebuilds. WVVOAD also conducted all private bridge repairs in the state. 

Stay tuned to The Real WV. We are in the midst of a series of stories on flood relief across West Virginia since 2016. Additional articles are forthcoming this week. The first article is available here.

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