Sustained Outrage

So, does gambling pay?


The answer appears to be yes, and no.

Two political science professors have analyzed legalized gambling revenue and public spending in West Virginina in the most recent issue of “The West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter,” published by the  Institute for Public Affairs at WVU’s Politial Science Department.

In their report, “Counting the Chips: The Policy Consequences of Legalized Gambling in West Virginia”, professors Patrick A. Pierce and Richard A. Brisbin Jr., found:

— State and local governments have certainly become more dependent legalized gambling revenue. West Virginia received $25.4 million in gambling revenue in 1991, compared to $639.2 million in 2007.
— Municipal and county governments began receiving legalized gambling revenue in2003, when it amounted to $3.4 million. In 2007, cities and counties received $7.8 million.
Legalized gambling makes a small contribution to relatively low-wage job creation in the state.
— Social costs and problem gambling are difficult to measure, but an earlier study found that problem and pathological gambling was three to four times as common among people living closer than 50 miles from a casino compared to those living farther away. Practically every West Virginian lives within 50 miles of a video lottery outlet and five of the 10 largest cities are within 50 miles of a racetrack with electronic gaming.

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Policing the police (and their attorneys)

Charleston lawyer Roger A. Wolfe’s civil lawsuit against the State Police and four of its troopers over his alleged beating while in police custody is still in the discovery phase, and already things have gotten contentious.

(As I reported earlier, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has launched a grand jury investigation into the alleged beating. But this is a separate issue to any possible criminal charges.)

Wolfe asked for copies of the personnel files of the four troopers alleged to have been involved — Paul A. Green, Kristy L. Layne, Jason S. Crane and John K. Rapp Jr. — as well as any records of complaints of misconduct that may have been made against each trooper and any disciplinary action that may have been taken. This is hardly an unusual request during discovery, when both sides exchange information they plan on using during trial.

Incredibly, the State Police’s attorneys, John A. Hoyer and Virginia Grottendieck Lanham, refused, saying that the police have an exemption from disclosing this material under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. And it’s true, the FOIA law does not require the disclosure of “[r]ecords of law-enforcement agencies that deal with the detection and investigation of crime and the internal records and notations of such law-enforcement agencies which are maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement.”


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Putnam County budget

Putnam County Commissioners approved their 2009-10 budget last week. In the budget, only one county office received a pay raise – the assessors office.

Employees will receive about a 5 percent raise.The raise was only possible because of the elimination of two positions in the office. Sherry L. Hayes eliminated her former position in the office after she was elected assessor in last year’s election. Another position was eliminated prior to Hayes taking office.

Even with employee raises, the office’s budget request was about $14,000 less than last year.

The total county budget is $16.9 million, compared with $16.1 million for last year.

Here are some of the expenditures approved:

— The Sheriff’s Department asked for $2,606,060, an increase of about $100,000 from last year. Most is to hire two more deputies and to provide medical checkups for members of the department who process meth labs. Sheriff Mark Smith also requested about $66,200 for processing, about $177,100 for home confinement and about $537,000 for the tax office.

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Highway robbery VII — shut out firm?

When Gov. Joe Manchin first explained his reasons for wanting to replace the federal process for choosing engineering firms with a bill to require the state to take the lowest bidder, he said the state was spending too much on engineering fees.

He also said he West Virginia business owners who had built successful businesses asked him why they couldn’t get a share of the state’s business. Manchin said his is intended to open up the state’s business to more firms.

This Parkersburg News and Sentinel story cites Jennifer Fox of Fox Engineering in Ripley, who says almost exactly what the governor said. Fox says she has not been able to win a new state project in five years. She says the state routinely awards bids to the same few firms, but that it would be difficult for her to qualify under the governor’s bill because of the requirement that engineering firms post a bond.

Thanks to a helpful reader for passing on the story.

Ben Rocuskie, an engineer with 50 years of experience, 30 of them with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, sent West Virginia lawmakers a letter that warns against adopting Gov. Joe Manchin’s lowest bidder engineering bill (HB2977).

barrel.jpgAs we have reported, Manchin says the state is paying too much in engineering fees. He blames a federal process created in 1972 called Qualified Based Selection. West Virginia has been following that process since 1990, thanks to a bill sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Manchin. The process requires states to solicit proposals from prospective engineering firms, and then evaluate them and choose the most qualified for the job, taking into account any special needs of the particular project. Then the firm works with the client, the state in this case, to define the scope of the work and to negotiate a fee. If the state cannot get the firm to agree to a price it likes, the state can move on to the next qualified firm. Where state money is spent on highways and water projects, Manchin wants to replace this method with a process where the lowest bidder from a pre-qualified list of firms is chosen.

Rocuskie’s letter says that in 1982. Pennsylvania switched to a selection process heavily weighted toward price when picking engineers for highways projects. Seven years later, the state reversed the decision and reinstated the federal Qualified Based Selection process.

The West Virginia chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies has also prepared a response to the governor’s bill.

Thanks to Patrick Park II of Hurricane for passing on the letter and that last link.

Dunbar’s police chief: Is he or isn’t he?

In January, I reported that Dunbar Mayor Jack Yeager had reorganized the town’s police department. Former Police Chief Earl Whittington was made a shift commander, and Lt. Bill Moss would become acting police chief.

Some town residents, most notably ousted Dunbar Mayor Roger Wolfe and his supporters, cried foul. In October, a special three-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court ordered Wolfe removed from office for conducting city business without the approval of Dunbar City Council.

Among the illegal acts the panel of judges found was that Wolfe had repeatedly tried to push raises for his department heads through City Council, including one for Whittington. One of the attempted tactics was to reclassify Whittington and other department heads as hourly workers so he could pay them large amounts of overtime.

Department heads can’t get overtime. But Wolfe and his followers point out that Moss is getting overtime as the town’s new police chief.

Yeager, appointed to replace Wolfe in November, said Moss is only acting police chief. Even though city council voted to raise the salary of the police chief’s position in January, Yeager said Moss is still being paid as a lieutenant and a shift commander, not as chief. As a shift commander, Yeager said, Moss can still draw overtime.

Yeager said this week that Moss only serves as police chief when the mayor needs one — at council meetings or to attend conferences or meetings with other police chiefs. “When that job is over, he goes out and chases bad guys,” Yeager said earlier this week.

But Wolfe says Yeager can’t have it both ways. Moss is either police chief or he isn’t. Wolfe says the city’s charter has no provision for an acting police chief, and appointing one is illegal.

It may take a court to decide who’s right.

Public hearing on engineering fee bill

A public hearing about HB2977 is scheduled at 2 p.m. on Wednesday (March 18) in the House Chamber at the Capitol. That’s the governor’s bill to change the way the state evaluates and awards contracts for engineering services, which has been explored on this blog here, here and here, as well here, and in my column.

The bill would require the state and other governments to choose the lowest bidder among prequalified engineering firms when state money is involved. It would be similar to the way construction bids currently work. Engineers want to keep in place a federal process they say ensures the best quality. The governor says the current process is costing the state a fortune.

Thanks to Darrell Buttrick, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies — West Virginia and to commenter Quality Engineer for the heads up about the meeting.

Highway robbery IV

Remember those highway project documents with the handwritten percentages that caused such a stir last week? The governor’s office originally said the number written on each of those sheets shows the percentage of the cost of each project that was consumed by consulting engineering fees.

barrel.jpgTurns out that’s wrong, as many engineers said at the time. The governor’s spokesman Matt Turner says he misunderstood. The percentages written on those pages actually express consulting engineering fees compared to construction costs.

So, for example,  if the sheet says fees were 27 percent, for every $100 the state spent on construction, the project cost another $27 in engineering fees.

That’s a very different number.

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Highway robbery III

If you think engineers are ripping you off, think again, several engineers have said in recent days. We’ve reported that Gov. Joe Manchin wants the Legislature to pass a bill to change the way the state puts engineering contracts for highway and water projects out to bid. The governor wants to dump the Qualified Based Selection process used by the federal government and 47 other states and replace it with a lowest-bid procedure.

barrel.jpgYes, the governor’s changes would cut into their profits, engineers say. But the changes would also increase the cost of doing business unnecessarily. Some firms would close, downsize, move out of state or simply shift away from government work.

In addition, what little money the state may save in engineering fees is going to be lost in increased construction costs, ongoing maintenance costs and possibly even safety, engineers say.

A June 2008 report  prepared for the American Public Works Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies concluded that:

Public agencies that use Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) to procure architectural and engineering (A/E) services are better able to control construction costs and achieve a consistently high degree of project satisfaction than those using other procurement methods. 

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WVU secrecy VI

Last week, we reported the ways WVU kept secret its deliberations in hiring James P. Clements as the school’s 23rd president. You’d think now that the Higher Education Policy Commission has confirmed the Board of Governors’ pick and agreed to his salary of $450,000, that WVU might be more forthcoming in details of Clements’ other compensation and perks.

However, WVU officials on Monday declined to share this public information without the delays of a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

In an e-mail, WVU spokesman Dan Kim wrote:

 “I think the best approach would be for you to submit a FOIA for the contract. That contract is not yet complete, but you should go ahead and submit your request. I think that will be the best way to get answers to your questions.”