Bloom ‘very worried’ about bureaucracy in opiate fund distribution

MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom on Wednesday said he believes the “Expert Panel Policy” recently released by the West Virginia First Foundation is unrealistic and a troubling early sign of unnecessary bureaucracy from the body tasked with distributing the state’s opiate settlement dollars. 

Bloom has led the West Virginia First Foundation process in the 13-county Region 4 as a representative of the region’s most-populous county. 

He explained the latest policy spelled out by the WVFF undoes some of the work already completed in Region 4 and sets up what he believes to be an impossibly tall task for a small group of unpaid experts. 

During a May 9 meeting, Region 4 representatives solidified the 16-member panel that would vet funding applications locally before passing them on to the 11-member WVFF for final consideration.

It looks as if that panel will not exist. 

Instead, WVFF Region 4 Director Jon Dower will be asked to select a panel of six volunteers, who, according to the policy, “shall be experts and leaders in their respective fields,” with “multiple years of work experience or an advanced degree,” who are “representative, not only of the key areas of expertise, but also of the characteristics, demographics and individualized needs of each region.” 

These six individuals will be tasked with conducting a needs assessment of the 13-county region every 12 months, vetting all projects and grant applications generated from within the region and engaging with the public of their region quarterly. 

According to the policy, the needs assessments generated by these regional expert panels will “aid the board in formulating the annual budgeted amount of disbursements.” 

Bloom asked how six unpaid individuals, likely with demanding professional careers, can be asked to complete a needs assessment across 13 counties in a timely manner and exactly how the foundation will ensure the assessments are being conducted with any level of uniformity across the state. 

“This process could take months, or longer,” he said.

Further, he questioned in a June 10 email to WVFF Executive Director Jonathan Board, how Dower is supposed to pick six people to be representative of the largest region in the state?

During a May 28 presentation before Morgantown City Council, Dower said approximately 40% of the state’s population lives in Region 4. 

“I don’t see how these individuals could represent the city of Morgantown and a small city in Doddridge County,” Bloom said. “As you are aware, we have selected a fantastic group of (16) individuals to represent our entire region and I wish there was some way each region would be permitted to choose their expert panel.” 

Bloom said Board has agreed to take his request for additional regional autonomy to the foundation as it further reviews the policy. 

“We’re very worried about this, because as the bureaucracy grows, we’ll have problems,” he said.