17 May 2007

Plan C: Aug. 11

That's the new date for the table games special election in Kanawha County. The Associated Press is among those with the details.

Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center in Nitro had suggested June 30, after an advertising snafu forced the county from holding the vote on June 9.

The Kanawha County Commission wanted to ensure that with Aug. 11, it also met a 90-day requirement for scheduling an election.

But that time frame still allows Hancock County to hold its special election, as requested by Mountaineer Racetrack & Gaming Resort in Chester, on Jun 30.

Ohio and Jefferson county met the 30-day prior notice requirement, and so still plan to hold their special elections June 9.

The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail both covered Thursday's Kanawha County Commission meeting, as did MetroNews.

Both AP and the Daily Mail, meanwhile, report on plans by gambling opponents to capitalize on the delays in their quest to defeat table games at the polls. Several of these foes have united to host a web site.

June 30 As Plan B

The Kanawha and Hancock Counties plan to meet today to decide whether to reschedule their special balloting for the table games to June 30.

The Associated Press has details, as does The Charleston Gazette, The (Wheeling) Intelligencer, Public Broadcasting (audio link) and MetroNews.

June 30 has become the Plan B for the tracks in these counties, after the snafu over a 30-day prior notice requirement forced them to abandon a June 9 date. Ohio and Jefferson counties met that advertising deadline, and still plan to vote on the earlier date.

Lottery Warned Over Network Takeover

A national group that helps problem gamblers has expressed alarm over the West Virginia Lottery Commission's push to take control of the state program in this area, The Associated Press reports.

State officials tell AP that the plan to give Lottery direct control of the Problem Gamblers Help Network is "is purely administrative and a more efficient way to process bills. Critics, however, allege a conflict of interest that breaks down the checks and balances ensuring good government," AP reports.

Those critics include the National Council on Problem Gambling. Executive Director Keith Whyte told the AP's Vicki Smith that the plan is "extraordinarily troubling" and "almost unprecedented."

"The industry has an important role to play in responsible gaming. But there has always been, for very obvious reasons, a line between industry and treatment," Whyte told AP, adding that the Lottery's plan "obliterates that wall."

Whyte also said that the only state to attempt something similar, Arizona, did so with disastrous results six years ago.

Public Broadcasting has also tracked this plan, and has felt out Gov. Joe Manchin on the question. Audio link here.

Update: Public Broadcasting chronicles a similar warning from another national group involved in treating problem gamblers. "1-800-Gambler is the hotline used by the vast majority of West Virginia callers," Scott Finn reports.

Garrison Detractors Persist

All is not smooth sailing for Mike Garrison, the former Wise Administration official and West Virginia University's president-elect.

Though more than a month has passed since the contentious final phase of the presidential search process, WVU's faculty senate has voted 33-29 to declare "no confidence" in that process, The Charleston Gazette reports.

WVU math department chairman Sherman Riemenschneider wanted the senate to commission an investigation into how the search was conducted. That failed 37-10 with one abstention, the newspaper reported.

Before Garrison's selection by the Board of Governors, the faculty senate had voted 47-5 to endorse the other finalist, former WVU dean and Kansas State Provost M. Duane Nellis.

The Board of Governors has since agreed on a contract for Garrison, 38, the Charleston Daily Mail reports. The package includes $255,000 starting in July, a five-bedroom home with dining space for 150 guests, and vehicles for him and his wife. The perks also include health coverage and "an automatic pay raise each year that will match the average percentage increases handed out to faculty and administrators," the newspaper reports.

But the Daily Mail also notes that "According to a report from the College and University Personnel Association, a median salary for university presidents in 2004 was $290,000... Garrison's salary would place him 170th out of 183 public university presidents, based on a 2006 earnings scale from the Chronicle of Higher Education."

Update: AP reports that in crafting the contract for Garrison, WVU's Board of Governors has sought to rule out moonlighting by Garrison while he's officially president-elect (July 1 - Sept. 21). A lawyer for the Spilman, Thomas & Battle firm, Garrison has also been a lobbyist with one of the largest client lists at the Legislature.

15 May 2007

Table Games: Counting from 30 - Updated

Two of the four counties slated to hold special elections June 9 failed to publish notices 30 days in advance, The Associated Press reports today.

The enabling legislation required each county to put legal ads in two newspapers by May 10. Kanawha County missed the deadline completely, while Hancock County got an ad in one paper in time but not a second, Secretary of State spokesman Ben Beakes told AP.

(Update: The track in each county has asked for rescheduled elections so the requirement can be satisfied, Secretary of State Betty Ireland said in a statement this afternoon. The AP has a story on the development.)

Ohio and Jefferson counties met the requirement, Beakes told AP.

"Conservative Christian activist Kevin McCoy, head of the West Virginia Family Foundation, said his group will likely petition for a postponement," the AP's Vicki Smith reports. The group has a constitutional challenge to the overall legislation pending before the state Supreme Court.

Both the Charleston Daily Mail and The Charleston Gazette have stories on the apparent snafus, as does MetroNews Radio. MetroNews also has audio of McCoy regarding possible additional legal action by his group.

Warner Waiver Urged

Editorials in both The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail today call on former U.S. Attorney Karl "Kasey" Warner to waive his right to keep private the reasons for his August 2005 firing.

The U.S. Justice Department essentially dared Warner to sign a waiver after he told The Associated Press last week that the White House fired him in 2005 in the middle of a corruption and vote-buying investigation but never told him why. (Blogged details here.)

Warner "declines to say whether he'll sign a waiver and allow the Department of Justice to publicly release its reasons for firing him," the Charleston Daily Mail reported today.

"The Department of Justice's credibility on the U.S. attorney departures is a matter of public record," Warner told the newspaper via email. "If an appropriate, unbiased governmental entity contacts me concerning my governmental service, I will - like any responsible citizen - cooperate fully."

Massey In Federal Crosshairs - Updated

Add a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit alleging massive Clean Water Act violations to the legal woes besetting Massey Energy Co., the nation's fourth-largest coal producer by revenues and a major employer in southern West Virginia.

The Associated Press
first reported last week that federal prosecutors had sued Massey and 27 subsidiaries. Filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the lawsuit alleges the coal operations exceeded average monthly or maximum daily discharge limits 4,633 times within the last six years, for about 69,071 days worth of violations.

Depending on when the illegal discharge occurred, seven Massey subsidiaries face fines of $27,500 or $32,500 per day of violation.

Massey responded to the lawsuit Monday afternoon, several hours after news of the lawsuit threatened to reverse the recent growth in the company's stock value:

* The AP quoted Daniel W. Scott, an analyst at Banc of America Securities, who estimated a "worst case" cost to Massey of $2.24 billion. Scott said Massey faced a sort of double-whammy between the Clean Water Act lawsuit and the recent federal ruling rescinding valley fill permits at four Massey operations.

* Massey shares fell 14 percent, or $4.26 at $26.07 per share, before trading was halted, Reuters reported. "The stock was the worst percentage decliner on the New York Stock Exchange."

Reuters also quoted an analysis from Credit Suisse First Boston that pegged the potential fines at just below $2 billion.

"Even if this most recent lawsuit ultimately results in an immaterial adverse impact on Massey Energy's financial position, we believe the uncertainty associated with the outcome suggests investors would be better served investing in U.S. coal companies that are not the direct target of such an extensive lawsuit," the analysis said.

* Also drawing on the Credit Suisse analysis, Bloomberg reported that the stock's drop was the worst for Massey since July 28. "Before today, the stock had jumped 31 percent this year."

"Considering the theoretical scope and magnitude of this most recent federal lawsuit, in our view this cannot be good from a Massey Energy shareholders perspective,'' Credit Suisse's David Gagliano said in the Bloomberg piece.

The followup AP article reflects both Massey's response and the Banc of America analysis. Both it and the original story note some of the coal operator's other legal troubles: $1.5 million in federal and $70,000 in state fines for violations stemming from last year's fatal Aracoma Mine fire; a federal criminal probe into that Logan County accident; a lawsuit filed by the widows of the two miners killed at Aracoma; and the ongoing lawsuit targeting the four Massey mountaintop removal operations.

Update: Massey disputes the analysts' estimates of potential civil penalties and alleges that prosecutors inflated the number of violations in a story today from AP Business Writer Tim Huber.

14 May 2007

Foxes And Henhouses

That's the analogy that critics invoked to The Associated Press' Vicki Smith as she details the ongoing push by the Lottery Commission to exert greater control over the state's program for problem gamblers.

"The Help Network provides unique, customized treatment on demand to callers to its toll-free hot line, which has counseled more than 5,000 gamblers and their families in seven years. The network assigns local counselors, scheduling appointments and following up on visits within 24 hours," Smith found.

Public Broadcasting reported on the Lottery's plan earlier, and also offers audio on its main web site. Public Broadcasting outlines the story and links on its new blog page as well.

W.Va. Surfaces in U.S. Attorney Firings Story

Former U.S. Attorney Karl K. "Kasey" Warner told The Associated Press last week that he sees political fingerprints on his 2005 ouster as southern West Virginia's chief federal prosecutor.

Warner's statements raise questions as to whether he belongs on the list of U.S. attorneys whoses firings since President Bush's re-election have fueled investigative hearings on Capitol Hill.

But they also prompted this response from U.S. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd: ‘‘We encourage Mr. Warner to provide the department with a written privacy waiver and we will be happy to provide you with the reason for his removal.’’

I sought to chronicle the circumstances surrounding Warner's abrupt departure at the time (will link to any of the other articles if I can find them online), and contributed to last week's story. I also note the recent testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey (YouTube link above).

Comey told the House committee that he oversaw the firing of two U.S. Attorneys during his 2003-2005 tenure. "Both had engaged in what I considered serious misconduct," Comey said.

But while one agreed to step down (following a phone call from Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, known as "The Turk"), "The other insisted on being fired by the president. And so we had the president actually fire him by letter," Comey told Congress.

Warner said before his firing that he had no desire to resign, but that he knew that he served at the will and pleasure of the president.

"The two I was involved with...were not close calls," Comey said. "As soon as you read about it, you said, 'This guy's gotta go.'"

Update: As I noted back in March, "While trying to figure out why Warner was forced out of his post in August 2005, I actually went through the list of 93 U.S. attorneys to see who else among Bush's picks was gone."

That research had allowed me to write that "As President Bill Clinton had done before him, Bush replaced all but one of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys after taking office in 2001." Yet, folks apparently remain confused on this point.

But I was also confused, when I discounted the allegations that since the 2004 re-election, the Bush Administration contemplated firing all 93 of its U.S. attorney appointees.

I was unaware of evidence showing that "then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers suggested...in February 2005 that all prosecutors be dismissed and replaced," as The Washington Post reported in March.