Sustained Outrage

Secret meetings, July 31, 2009

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Congratulations! For the second time this month, not a single agency violated the rules that require meeting notices to be published at least five days in advance of the meeting.

The meetings were published in this week’s edition of the State Register.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

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Photo of August 2008 explosion and fire at Bayer Institute plant, via AP by Tom Hindman, Charleston Daily Mail.

Well, today we had a story about how the management of DuPont Co.’s chemical plant up in Belle waited more than two days to tell anybody about a leak.

Several readers have commented to me that plant manager Bill Menke seemed pretty cavalier about the whole thing when he said:

It was essentially a non-event when you get right down to it. Normally, we wouldn’t have said anything.

So I thought I would point that that Menke also mentioned to me that his company could have just let the leak go on for a few weeks, rather than shutting down the unit involved after operating it for 18 hours with an emergency hose attached to catch some — but not all — of the leaking sulfur tri-oxide. But, Menke told me:

That’s not the way I want to operate this plant. It’s not my intent to live with any kind of leak.

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Yesterday, the White House announced what oddly enough isn’t really routine in the federal government: Nomination of a very strong safety and health advocate to run the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

michaels_david.jpgPicked for the job by President Obama was David Michaels, a George Washington University epidemiologist who has in recent years specialized in exposing efforts by industry to “manufacture uncertainty” to avoid regulation.

There’s lots more about Michaels on the OSHA Underground blog here,  and some of his writings appear on The Pump Handle blog. Also check out his book, “Doubt is the Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.”

Metro government: More answers from Louisville

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Remember the Q&A from the metro government forum earlier this month? Some of those questions were directed to Louisville, Ky., Mayor Jerry Abramson. His office has since sent responses to those questions, and Jennifer Sayre, deputy county manager of Kanawha County, passed them on to us:

louisville_kentucky_seal.jpgFrom: Shannon Tivitt, Chief of Staff, Louisville Metro

RE: Questions and Answers

Our staff has researched your questions about merger of city and county government in Louisville and tried to provide helpful answers. Thank you again for the opportunity to share our success story with your community.

  1. Did you/Do you have any smaller communities that refused to merge? If so, what problems?

The merger statute did not dissolve the 80 or so small suburban cities within Louisville Metro. These citizens are part of Louisville Metro, receive city services and pay city taxes as other residents of the former county did.

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Secret meetings, July 24, 2009

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Today’s edition of the State Register lists only one meeting that violates the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

It’s a meeting on Tuesday, July 28, of the Public Defender Services Corp. for the 11th Judicial Circuit in Marlinton.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

In reading the Brookings report “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel Prosperity” and writing Wednesday’s summary of it, one question kept bugging me:

brookings3.JPGWhich comes first, metro prosperity or metro government?

Several of the metropolitan areas cited in the report have merged governments or functions. Metro government proponents in Kanawha County cite this report in support of merging governments into a metro system here.

The report clearly spells out that metropolitan areas, no matter their form of government, have urban centers whose economic fortunes are intertwined with their surrounding areas. Metro areas parlay innovation, human capital and infrastructure into more opportunities, employment and wealth.

But does that mean if you form a merged metropolitan government, prosperity will follow?

I asked the report’s author Alan Berube, senior fellow and research director at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, in short, if economic prosperity is the cause of metro government rather than the result? Here’s his answer:

 “I think your inclination is correct — creating a metro government in Charleston will not magically produce the collection of underlying economic assets that make large metropolitan areas such powerful players in the national and global economy — innovative firms, educated and skilled workers, modern and efficient infrastructure, high-quality sustainable places.

“Yet you shouldn’t overlook the outsized economic contribution that the Charleston region already makes in the WV context.  As the largest metropolitan area in the state (and the 147th largest in the nation), the Charleston, WV MSA contains 17% of the state’s population, 20% of the state’s jobs, and generates almost 24% of the state’s GDP.  So like most metro areas, Charleston already “punches above its weight.” (See here for stats)  Note that this represents the contribution of the whole metro area: Kanawha County plus Boone, Clay, Lincoln and Putnam counties.

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The case for nurturing metropolitan areas

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The map above is from “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity,” a2007 report by Brookings’  Metropolitan Policy Program. It shows the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas by employment in 2005. Note the conspicuous lack of dots anywhere in West Virginia.

State Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, cites this report support of forming a metro government for Charleston and Kanawha County, something he has been talking about for years.

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Bayer non-secrecy bill passed by Senate panel

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We reported two weeks ago about how legislation responding to Bayer CropScience’s secrecy efforts had been added to a federal government budget bill. Now, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is moving that legislation on another front — through a separate bill that won approval today from the Senate Commerce Committee that Rockefeller chairs.

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At a July 8 forum on metro government featuring Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Kanawha residents submitted questions to be answered later. Below are answers provided by Kanawha County Commission staff. The county has also  posted them on the county’s web site.

Metro Government Forum Questions

 

1. Will each council representative have equal voice – one vote per representative? Or would it be based on population?

The council representatives will be elected in districts that would be established based on equal populations. Thus, each vote will represent about the same number of people.  The size of the district will be decided via the Charter Review Committee that will be appointed once a resolution is passed by the Commission and City of Charleston or a petition is signed by 25% of the voters of Kanawha County and 25% of the voters of the City of Charleston requesting that Metro Government be evaluated.

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Metro government will draw jobs. Seriously?

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Metro government supporters routinely say that a new consolidated government would make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations looking for new locations. Skeptics shake their heads. Kanawha has about 190,000 people, including 50,000 in Charleston. Redrawing lines on a map or redesigning local government won’t suddenly add thousands of irresistible skilled workers or fix any other problems that turn business off.

True, says Matt Ballard, president and CEO of Charleston Area Alliance. But he believes metro government really could make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations.

“Large businesses do hire site consultants,” Ballard said. “They come back with a short list of sites that meet certain criteria.” Companies are usually looking for two main things — infrastructure and population of a certain size, enough to provide a good workforce.

So, for example, if that consultant makes a list of all the metropolitan statistical areas of 250,000 anchored by a principal city, no place in West Virginia makes the cut.

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