Issue Area 1: The Board is not Accessible to the Public.
The Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology has no listings published in standard telephone books around the State; cannot be located through West Virginia Directory Assistance because it has no such listings; has no office open to the public and no Internet site. Except for the State Capitol Telephone Directory and the even lessor known Capitol Assistance line, the Board's telephone number is unpublished and unavailable. Thus, the Board is inaccessible to the public. The Board is charged with the responsibility of regulating the profession. However, in six years of existence, the Board has only dealt with two complaints. The Legislative Auditor's Office is concerned that the regulatory function of the Board is compromised by it's inaccessibility to the public. H.B.4021, passed during the 1998 regular session, requires all boards to include a telephone number in the Charleston telephone directory's government pages. The Board's compliance with this legislation will allow the general public to find the Board.
Issue Area 2: The Board is Acting as Extension of Professional Associations.
The sole statutory purpose of the Board is the protection of the public. The Legislative Auditor's Office contends that a close relationship between a regulatory Board and a professional association endangers the Board's mission of public protection. Meeting minutes show the extent of involvement between the Board and the professional association. Disbursement schedules show that the Board uses state funds to subsidize the professional association. The state board should not allow the professional association to use it to further the association's own legislative or political agenda. The Board, by acting as a subset of the professional association, jeopardizes its function of public protection.
Issue Area 3: The Board Paid $7,700 to a Professional Association to Sponsor Speakers at the Professional Association's Conferences in 1996 and 1997 and has Agreed to Spend Another $3,000 for the 1998 Conference.
The Board of Examiners paid $2,700 to the West Virginia Speech-Language-Hearing Association for ≥services related to professional training and development of speech-language pathologists and audiologists in the state of West Virginia.≤ The ≥services≤ were speakers at the Association's 1996 conference. In 1997, financial records indicate the Board subsidized the Association's convention by paying $5,000 for two speakers. An additional $3,000 is budgeted for the 1998 convention. The West Virginia Code, as amended, defines the powers and duties of the Board and does not authorize direct training and education; the Board's role is to set standards and evaluate compliance with its standards of education and training.
The importance of Board independence cannot be understated. Sponsorship of Speakers at a professional association's event is a conflict of interest. The Legislature addressed the issue of independence and impartiality of government in WV Code 6B-1-2(a), which reads in part:
Independence and impartiality of public officials and public employees are essential for the maintenance of the confidence of our citizens in the operation of a democratic government. The decisions and actions of public officials and public employees must be made free from undue influence at every level of government.
Issue Area 4: The Board has never Filed an Annual Report with the Secretary of State's Office, as mandated by Law.
West Virginia Code 30-1-12 (b) requires the Board to submit an annual report to the Governor, Legislature and Secretary of State by January 1 of each year. To date the Board has never filed an annual report. The requirement of state boards to file annual reports provides accountability to the citizens of West Virginia. It is the way public boards make their information available to the public which it serves and to government entities which provide oversight.
Issue Area 5: The Board is in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
The Open Meetings law requires all public agencies to conduct their proceedings in an open and public manner. A Meeting Notice must be filed with the Secretary of State for publication in the state register. The Administrative Law Division of the Secretary of State's Office found no record of any meeting notices filed by the Board of Examiners. The Legislative Auditor's Office requested that the current Chair of the Board denote which meetings were open and which were closed to the public. The chair reported that there were two open meetings, nine meetings which were both open and closed and 34 closed meetings. By statutory definition, none of the Board's meetings have been open.
Issue Area 6: The Board's adoption of the American Speech Language-Hearing Association's Code of Ethics as part of an administrative rule may discourage competition.
The Board of Examiners adopted the American Speech-Language Hearing Association's Code of Ethics in 1992. That same year, the Federal Trade Commission ruled, in South Carolina (which adopted the same code of ethics), that there is a danger in adopting ASHA's code of ethics because it contains anti-competitive statements. The FTC found that it may be illegal for speech pathologists and audiologists to practice in a commercial establishment, to set up a corporate practice, or to be affiliated with a managed care organization. The FTC found the restriction on advertising to be overly broad and unnecessary to protect consumers.