Honaker acting as Inspector General despite being constitutionally-ineligible

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Late last week, at a meeting of the Jails & Prisons Committee, the agenda included a presentation by: “Mike Honaker, Inspector General – WV Department of Homeland Security.” 

Numerous media outlets reported on the meeting and referred to Honaker by the title of Inspector General.

Yet, as previously reported by RealWV, Honaker’s appointment as Inspector General was abruptly pulled by the governor’s office in September 2023, following constitutional concerns raised by the Senate.

Legislature wanted “independent” watchdog

In light of a bevy of lawsuits involving the state’s jails and prisons as well as several high-profile internal investigations, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asked the legislature to create an Inspector General’s position in early 2023. 

An early version of the bill required the Secretary of DHS to hire their own Inspector General. According to testimony, legislators and DHS officials alike agreed that was not the best idea. They said it was vital that the position be created in law as an “independent” watchdog appointed to office, rather than hired by the Secretary of the department they were supposed to investigate.

On March 11, 2023, the legislature passed HB3360 to create the position of Inspector General of DHS, to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. 

Governor Jim Justice turned to a legislator who helped craft the law to fill the position by appointing Mike Honaker. But there was a problem. The state constitution forbids legislators from taking paid jobs they voted to create.

Emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act showed that the Senate voiced this concern to the governor’s office about Honaker’s appointment, and the governor’s staff abruptly withdrew the nomination. 

Jails & Prisons Committee invites Honaker to present

Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler, chairs the Jails & Prisons Committee and sponsored HB3360, which created the Inspector General of DHS.

As reported by Matthew Young, Honaker spoke about his visits to five jails and prisons across West Virginia to examine conditions within facilities in the last few months. “I have enjoyed the full cooperation of the governor’s office, the secretary of Homeland Security, and the commissioner (of the W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation),” he said.

The public agenda listed him as Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.

But if Mike Honaker is ineligible to serve as Inspector General as emails confirm, how is he acting as Inspector General?

“Hired” vs “appointed”

According to Gov. Justice, “He’s been hired into an existing position as the Inspector General.” 

The semantic difference–”hired” rather than “appointed”–allowed the executive branch to set aside Honaker’s constitutional ineligibility. Since he could not be appointed as the newly-created Inspector General, he was hired into a similar role with the same title that existed before the new law was passed. 

Mikio Mori, Ambassador, Consul General of Japan in New York, visited the governor’s mansion on Nov 29, 2023, to discuss the long-standing friendship between Japan and West Virginia. Mike Honaker, far right, hands ceremonial paperwork to Gov. Justice at the meeting. Honaker works for the state’s Department of Homeland Security. Justice pulled his nomination as Inspector General in September 2023.

“Can you discuss the need for this position?” Honaker asked DHS.

As the bill was being crafted in the House Judiciary Committee late last February, Chairman Moore Capito asked if there were any questions. Delegate Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, spoke up. He called on Rob Cunningham, Deputy Secretary of the DHS, to come forward. 

“Can you discuss the need for this position?” Honaker said. “The need for the independent investigator and the nature of the investigations they’d be conducting?”

“We need a codified Inspector General to act in a law enforcement capacity,” Cunningham said. “What brought to light the need for this is our Inspector General conducting high profile investigations within some of our agencies and our agencies pushing back asking, ‘What authority do you have to investigate us?’”  

As Cunningham testified, DHS already had an Inspector General hired by the secretary to do the job. But due to the sensitive nature of the investigations, that hired position lacked the proper authority. 

“Not the best way” Trump says of previous Inspector General arrangement

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, echoed the same sentiment in his speech in favor of the bill on March 10, 2023. “It seemed as we looked at it that perhaps it’s not the best way to do that to have the secretary controlling the person who controls his own Inspector General,” he said on the Senate floor. 

Yet, Honaker is now serving in precisely that manner–hired by the DHS Secretary, which DHS said in early 2023 was an untenable means to conduct independent and authoritative investigations. 

In interviews Friday afternoon, Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler, expressed no concerns about Honaker’s role in the position created by the bill Kelly sponsored. “We are looking into the conditions at the jails and if needs are being met; we are talking about conditions,” he said. “I believe he’s (Honaker’s) operating in a fashion that if he’s considered the Inspector General then he’s operating within the intent of the bill.”

Kelly wrote a letter to Honaker in November of 2023 requesting that he visit and report on jail conditions to the Jails & Prisons Committee. In the letter, Kelly specifically identifies Honaker as the Inspector General of DHS. 

HB3360, which Kelly sponsored creating the new Inspector General’s positions, requires certain confidential reports to the governor and Joint Committee on Government & Finance on a quarterly basis. The reports are confidential and not subject to FOIA, according to the law. Honaker is unable to file such reports, as he is serving in the hired rather than appointed role. 

Honaker himself stated the position required a level of independence and legal authority, both in his comments in House Judiciary in February 2023 and in his comments to RealWV upon his appointment in August 2023. “The Inspector General is much more than internal affairs,” Honaker said. “It’s more the high-level investigations of fraud, waste, abuse, sexual harassment, or criminal matters that rise to that level.”

Honaker did not respond to RealWV’s request for comment. 

Justice says he intends to appoint Honaker to the role created by HB3360 once he is eligible in early 2025.

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