- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is renewing a pledge to avoid conflicts of interest and has instructed state employees to report family members and anyone else who seeks special favors.

In a letter issued to government workers Monday, the Democratic governor said the “last thing” he wants is a conflict between his family’s businesses and state government.

Justice, who owns The Greenbrier resort, has said he’ll put his numerous businesses now run by his children in a blind trust. The ethics commission hasn’t approved such a trust. In the letter, Justice said the process has been slowed by financial institutions that work with his companies.

Justice said that shuttering his companies “is not an option; It would mean good people would lose their jobs and that just wouldn’t be right. I want to grow jobs, not lose jobs.”

The letter said Justice employed 2,719 West Virginians before he was elected. The governor said there’s no expectation on his children’s behalf of receiving special treatment, and he encouraged state employees to report to their immediate supervisor anyone seeking special favors.

“I ask that you conduct yourself at all times in a manner that avoids even the appearance of impropriety,” Justice said.

Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, credited Justice for addressing the matter but said Monday “this does not erase the conflict of interest.”

And state Republican Party chairman Conrad Lucas said it will be “impossible” for Justice to avoid the appearance of conflict, pointing out that millions in state tax dollars go annually to the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament and to advertise the resort’s hotel and casino.

“All of those entities are regulated by parts of the Executive Branch he now runs,” Lucas said. “The same goes for his coal mines,” regulated by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

“Just looking at the width and depth of his holdings, it is impossible for this administration not to be encumbered by self-interest,” Lucas said. “The citizens of West Virginia deserve a governor who operates with total transparency.”

Justice, 65, was elected in November in his first run for statewide office in a largely self-funded campaign.

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