TERRY CLAIMS STATE SUPERINTENDENT LIED - Mezzatesta's Ethics Charges Back On Burner

By Dianne Weaver

House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta is on the firing line again.

The state Ethics Commission says it will review allegations that it was misled by State School Superintendent David Stewart into dropping the ethics cases against the Hampshire County Democrat.

Tifney Terry, who filed the original complaints, says Stewart lied in his sworn statement.

"Jerry Mezzatesta has never solicited any grants from me, personally, at any time," Stewart said in the April 27 affidavit. "Nor has he ever attempted to influence me relative to making any grants."

She has now filed a complaint against Stewart, based on what letters she has obtained and now posted on a web site.

Mezzatesta and school officials said he would not seek grants from the state.

Terry says that is "absolutely not so."

Charleston newspapers are reporting today that Stewart appears to have admitted "error" in his defense of ethics charges against Mezzatesta.

"The affidavit is a cover-up for all sides," said Wanda Carney, a former radio talk-show host who has started a state government watchdog group called West Virginia Wants to Know.

Mezzatesta, head of the legislature's education committee, had sought to increase Stewart's salary and was the principal player in convincing him to return to his position after he resigned.

Terry said today she has proof that Mezzatesta improperly sought a state grant for Hampshire County schools, where he works.

Mezzatesta is suppose to avoid such a conflict of interest, a condition which he earlier agreed upon in a written statement.

Unlike other school employees who sit in the Legislature, Mezzatesta does not take unpaid leave to serve in the Legislature, allowing him to collect two paychecks at once from taxpayers -- $24,000 as a legislator and $60,000 as an educator for Hampshire County.

In most any other state this conflict of interest would cost Mezzatesta his chairmanship.

The State Ethics Commission is not an independent body, being created and funded by the legislature.

At least a half-dozen newspapers in the state have called for Mezzatesta to resign, in addition to the elimination of the Ethics Commission.

Mezzatesta, besides facing ethics charges, has been accused of changing the state's school funding formula to benefit Hampshire County.

The Hampshire County school system and Hampshire County has benefited from the hundreds of thousands of dollars with what locals call "Mezz Money."

Mezzatesta has said his problem is with the media and mis-information.