Sustained Outrage

Secret meetings, July 17, 2009

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Today’s issue of the State Register contains two violations of the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law. In both cases, agencies published notices today for meetings that have already happened.

First, there’s the West Virginia Conservation Agency, which had a notice in today’s Register to announce a meeting that occurred on July 14.  Then, there’s the Region 7 Workforce Investment Board, which had a notice in today for a meeting that happened yesterday.

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.

frankmullens.jpgSouth Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens is the second Kanawha County elected official to answer our question: “When you imagine metro government, what do you see?” Mullens was elected mayor in 2007. He started working for the city as a lifeguard in 1982 at age 19. He attended West Virginia State College, sold real estate for a time and worked his way up to city public works director in 1992. South Charleston was established in 1906 and incorporated in 1919. The city has about 12,000 people

A vision of metro government

By Frank Mullens

Mayor of South Charleston

Vision on Metro Government. I guess it is simply that a principle City (Charleston) would be the major identity of the County and the major decision maker. Even though the supporters say there would be no change in how smaller Cities function, I don’t believe that would be the case and certainly not in the long run.

The argument that every City would have representation which gives them a voice just doesn’t hold water. The voice would be small and ineffective. The people serving now will not be the people serving 10 or 20 years from now, so who’s to say where the power structure would go? Here in South Charleston, I believe we have an efficient and effective government, the best services in the State, and the City is financially strong. Why would we change? Our services are very personalized, and I believe if we merge services it would take away that special personalized touch.

There are many questions that need to be answered and some comments that just do not make sense. The discussions have been very generic. Comments such as more efficient and effective government lack detail. A great question would be “What service that the City of South Charleston provides now would a Metro Government provide better and how?” There have been many comments made that a Metro Government would be more cost effective by sharing resources or services. While there may be some, which needs to be explained in more detail, many of these things I would contend could be done now without the formalization of a Metro Government ( 911, Metro Drug Unit). There is also evidence that sharing cost for bulk buying does not always save money.

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Federal toxics agency weighs in on PFOA science

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The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control has issued a huge report — 404 page in all — outlining its take on the science surrounding potential health effects of perfluorinated chemicals like PFOA, or C8.

You can read portions of the report here, or download the entire thing as a .pdf file here (careful, it’s 10 MB).

The report itself is called a Toxicological Profile, which is a document that summarizes the state of the science about a chemical. Under the 1986 amendments to the Superfund law, ATSDR is required to prepare such documents, typically for chemicals that are found at sites that are the National Priorities List for toxic cleanups.

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Some time ago, while listening to an argument about metro government, it occurred to me that no two people I ever met seemed to mean the exact same thing when they used the term. So, we asked several Kanawha County elected officials to write down for us in their own words precisely what they see when they imagine some future metro government in the county.

bradshaw21.JPGThe first one is Damron Bradshaw, mayor of Chesapeake since 1991. He previously served on the town council and as town recorder. He is executive director of the Upper Kanawha Valley Enterprise Community, pastor of the Racine United Methodist Church and worked for 32 years at Dupont. Chesapeake has about 1,600 residents. It was incorporated on Nov. 1, 1948 and is named for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

How do I see metro government?

By Damron Bradshaw

Mayor of Chesapeake

My vision of metro government in the sense of Charleston-Kanawha County is truly akin to what I saw when I twice visited Louisville, Ky. Being mayor of one of the small towns in the Upper Kanawha Valley, I see a metro government that does not take away the autonomy of the towns. The towns do not change their structured form of government, but besides that have a representative to the new metro government.

If the 190,000 inhabitants of Kanawha Valley are evenly divided by population and each “new district” has representation to the metro government, then I think that there is equal representation. I see a diversity of representatives by race, age and gender coming together for the good of all.  But, the big thing is, “How will the unincorporated areas perceive metro government as it relates to them?”

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Well site during active drilling to the Marcelllus Shale formation in Upshur County, West Virginia, in 2008. Photo copyright West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization.

It’s been a while since we updated readers on  the growing concerns about pollution from oil and gas drilling operations in West Virginia (See Gas drilling damage I, Gas drilling damage II and Gas drilling damage III).

But last month, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposed some rule changes that are at least a beginning step toward more closely regulating the biggest concern: Water pollution from the “pit fluids,” the huge amounts of water used to fracture rock and release gas, especially from the wells drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation.

The comment period on the DEP proposal  ended last night with a public hearing. I’m told that a ton of industry lobbyists attended, but none of them got up to make public statements. Behind the scenes, though, the industry is strongly opposing the rule changes. Perhaps that will come out today, when the issue is scheduled to be discussed during legislative interim meetings (1 p.m., House Government Organization Committee Room, 215 E).

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domesticviolence.jpgOne of the most powerful images for me from the Desmond Clark sentencing earlier this month happened as I walked out of the courthouse after the hearing. Judge Jim Stucky had imposed a life sentence for Clark’s murder of Na’lisha Gravely, the 19-year-old mother of his son, the cameras had gone and the media had dispersed. There, talking calmly on the sidewalk, stood Tina Gravely, Na’lisha’s mother, and Valerie Clark, Desmond’s mother.

It was a sad reminder that these women are linked forever, not just by the tragedy that happened in the Patrick Street Taco Bell last July, but because De’mahjae, the grandson they share, has now effectively lost both of his parents forever.

I thought of this moment as I read about a new academic study, conducted by Solveig Vatnar, a PhD. candidate at the University of Oslo. Vatnar interviewed 157 survivors of domestic violence, and her conclusions speak for themselves.

Violence inflicted by an intimate partner lasts longer if the couple has children together, and the violence continues after the relationship ends. In addition, children are harmed more by witnessing violence between their parents than previously thought.

“Our analyses show that violence by an intimate partner lasts longer for women who have children, even when we control for the duration of the couple’s relationship,” Vatnar told Anita Haslie, a writer with KILDEN, an information center for gender research in Norway.

In other words, being a mother does not protect a woman from violence. It has no significance for the severity of the violence, the type of injury sustained by the woman, the frequency of the violent episodes or whether the violence is perceived as life-threatening. If the couple has children together, the risk that violent episodes will continue after the break-up also increases.

Vatnar also found that the victims’ version of events should not be discounted, because they often provide the best insight into a situation once it has reached a crisis point. Police officers in particular may want to take note:

“Studies also show that the women themselves judged the threat involved as well as the best threat assessment instruments. If a woman was wrong, it was because she underestimated the threat. This means that when someone contacts the police, it is usually a high-risk situation that needs to be taken seriously,” says Vatnar.

“I compare this to a heart attack. We don’t refuse to dispatch an ambulance when someone has symptoms that resemble a heart attack just because we have had cases of false alarm.”

For folks who are closely following issues surrounding the toxic chemical PFOA (also known as C8), both the C8 Science Panel and the C8 Health Project have published their first papers in peer-reviewed journals.

The Science Panel’s first paper went online back in March, but is just now available in the July issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The first paper on the C8 Health Project appeared online for the first time Monday in the same journal.

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This apartment at 157 Miracle Drive, one of the units at Miracle Acres in St. Albans, was boarded up and condemned for containing a meth lab. Kanawha County Planning Director David Armstrong said his crew has had to re-board the residence multiple times because trespassers keep breaking into it.

I don’t often have reason to get involved in the Gazette’s coverage of methamphetamine labs around the Kanawha County area. But a couple of items caught my eye that I wanted to pass on to Sustained Outrage readers.

First, Dave Yaussy at the West Virginia Environmental Law blog pointed out this Bracket Report Pages item about the increasing dangers meth labs are posing to hazardous materials cleanup crews:

Meth labs are extremely dangerous and even being in the vicinity of a an illegal lab could mean injury or death. The dangerous chemicals involved in the production of meth will leave behind hazardous waste residue. Many of the ingredients that are being used in meth production are many common household chemicals that can be found in household cleaners and paints. These chemicals include benzene and methylene sometimes chloride or trichloroethane and toluene. Methamphetamine may also include other chemicals and solvents such as phosphorous iodine and metals.

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At Kanawha County’s request, the Legislature this year changed the state code so that Kanawha County needs only a simple majority of affected voters (anything over 50 percent) to consolidate governments.

The law lists three possible versions of consolidated government. One is the consolidation of two or more counties. Another is the consolidation of two or more cities or towns. The third variety, the one most talked about in Kanawha County right now, is called a metro consolidation in state law and is the consolidation of one or more counties with a principal city.

So, how do you actually go about creating a new government? You can read Chapter 7A of state for yourself. Here are the steps for a metro consolidation (the details vary somewhat for the other two kinds) listed in the law:

Step 1 — To get the process started, at least 25 percent of the registered voters of each affected principal city and county (excluding the principal city) sign a petition in support of a metro consolidation, or the affected principal city and county pass  resolutions for a metro consolidation.

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One in 68

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That’s the number of adult West Virginians under correctional control: in prison, or in jail, or on parole or on probation.

The good news is that number is low, relatively speaking, compared to the national average, which is one in 31. It is also low compared to neighboring states: Kentucky (one in 35), Maryland (one in 27), Ohio (one in 25),  Pennsylvania (one in 28) and Virginia (one in 46).

But that’s still a lot, particularly when you consider that 25 years ago, the figure for West Virginia was only one in 226 adults. (Has crime really tripled over that period?)

All these figures come from a study by the Pew Center on the States that was published in March. I went back to look at this study after it was mentioned in the report submitted to Gov. Joe Manchin by the Governor’s Commission on Prison Overcrowding, and a few points bear repeating.

According to the Pew study, West Virginia spent $1

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