Photo caption: Stakeholders and members of the West Virginia First Foundation met for the first time in the Truist building in Charleston, W.Va., on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Caity Coyne | West Virginia Watch)
BY: CAITY COYNE – NOVEMBER 6, 2023 5:27 PM
The West Virginia First Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded earlier this year to distribute money from the state’s ongoing opioid litigation, is officially up and running after members convened for the first time on Monday.
The organization is still without an executive director, but Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — who will eventually select the person to fill the role after consulting with the 11-member board of directors — said during a news briefing Monday afternoon that people can expect developments from the foundation to come relatively quickly over the next few months.
“Rest assured, we will make announcements as they become available,” Morrisey told reporters.
The morning portion of Monday’s day-long foundation meeting — which was open to the public until members entered an executive session around lunchtime — dealt mostly with the logistics of operating the nonprofit.
While dealing with public funds, the nonprofit is completely separate from the state. Board members voted unanimously on Monday to elect the following individuals to leadership positions on the board:
- Chair: Matt Harvey, Jefferson County prosecuting attorney
- Vice chair: Dr. Matt Christiansen, state health officer and commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health
- Treasurer: Jeff Sandy, former cabinet secretary for the state Department of Homeland Security
- Secretary: Dora Stutler, Harrison County Schools superintendent
The 11 initial members of the board will serve staggered terms spanning from one to three years that were chosen at random on Monday. Following the expiration of their first term, all subsequent members will serve three year terms.
All directors on the foundation’s board are working without compensation. The executive director, however, will be a full-time, salaried position, Harvey said. Morrisey said it was “premature” to make an announcement Monday regarding candidates for the executive director spot. During the afternoon executive session, he said directors from the foundation asked “engaging” questions during a “lengthy discussion” regarding staffing for the organization.
“I think people are going to like what they see,” Morrisey said.
During the morning meeting, John Jenkins, an accountant with the firm Smith, Cochran and Hicks, PLLC who is serving as the fund administrator and incorporator for the First Foundation, walked members through what they can expect as the nonprofit gets off the ground. He told members that money could be going out to communities impacted by the drug and overdose epidemic as soon as next month. In the afternoon press conference, Harvey confirmed this.
“It’s my understanding that the counties’ and the municipalities’ portion of the settlement funds, which is significant … will be able to be deployed … this calendar year so they can begin to work on directing those resources and putting them in the hands of the people that can do the most good,” Harvey said. “We don’t have any oversight in how they spend those dollars, but we certainly as a board will be there to offer any suggestions.”
Following a court order last month, about $300 million in opioid settlement funds have been made available in the state so far. Per guidelines set in the memorandum of understanding filed by the attorney general’s office and approved by both local and state officials for the First Foundation, about $217.5 million of that — 72.5% — will go directly to the First Foundation.
Localities participating in the litigation will split $73.5 million, with total disbursements for each determined by a formula set in attachment C of the MOU. The remaining $9 million — 3% of the initial disbursement — will go to the state government to be held in escrow to cover legal fees from opioid litigation. If that money is not spent by Dec. 31, 2026, 1% will go to local governments and the foundation will receive the other 2%.
Jenkins said the foundation should expect to see disbursements come annually until around 2036, with the amount of money potentially changing each year depending on circumstances. In 2024 and 2025, the disbursements are expected to be about $30 million annually. Once attorneys fees are covered, Jenkins said he anticipates the annual total to increase to about $45 million in 2026 and 2027.
“This is assuming all the settlements are paid timely,” Jenkins said.
It’s expected that West Virginia could receive up to about $1 billion in gross funds from opioid settlements against numerous companies and drug manufacturers.
“Ideally, these are companies that will stay in existence for that period of time,” Morrisey told members of the foundation during Monday’s meeting.
Members of the foundation’s board of directors voted unanimously to open an interim bank account for the nonprofit through Huntington Bank. Executives from Huntington Bank — who were present at the meeting and said they were offering these services pro bono — suggested that the board of directors file an official request for proposals for banking institutions to handle the nonprofit’s accounts long term.
Other actions taken by the board of directors on Monday included creating two committees — an executive committee and a finance committee — to help keep the nonprofit operating. An expert panel meant to help focus the distribution of funds will be formed sometime in the future.
The executive committee — which is composed of all the officers and Jonathan Board, vice president of external affairs at Mon Health — will be responsible for facilitating the foundation’s ongoing business, including scheduling meetings and handling communication and outreach.
The finance and auditing committee — which includes Sandy, philanthropist and attorney Alys Smith and Raleigh County Commissioner Greg Duckworth — will be responsible for maintaining the organization’s financial records and portfolio.
The meeting Monday was opened to the public following some confusion late last week. On Saturday, Jenkins emailed several media outlets announcing the Monday morning meeting officially for the first time.
Local governments have urged the First Foundation to adopt the Open Meetings Act into its bylaws. In a social media post on Saturday morning, Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, who chairs the House Committee on Health and Human Resources, said that her committee already “has a bill drafted” for the 2024 session to do just that.
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