21 December 2007

WVU, Manchin's Daughter Under Fire Over MBA Degree

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is questioning whether a daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin earned the master's degree in business administration that West Virginia University has awarded her.

Heather Bresch, now the chief operating officer at drug maker Mylan Inc., "completed only about half the credits needed to earn the degree," the newspaper reports.

But WVU revised its records to reflect that she completed her degree in December 1998, the article said.

"An Oct. 22 letter advising the admissions and records office to award Ms. Bresch the degree retroactively was signed by R. Stephen Sears, the Milan Puskar Dean of WVU's business school," the article said. "As a result, six classes were added to her record and grades were awarded for two other classes for which she had received 'incompletes,' according to sources inside the university."

(Update: A WVU spokeswoman tells The Associated Press that "Bresch's records were corrected, but only after an investigation showed that information contained in the College of Business and Economics files was not properly recorded in WVU's admission's office a decade ago." Also, " similar problems were discovered in the records of a couple of other students," spokeswoman Amy Neil said.)

The newspaper said it began researching the school record of Bresch, 38, when she was promoted earlier that month at Mylan. It notes that the company is chaired by Puskar, considered WVU's most generous donor and a supporter of Manchin.

The research "suggests high-ranking officials revised her university records despite a lack of solid evidence to support the reconstruction," the Post-Gazette reports. "Moreover, it suggests officials did so in a way that violated WVU's internal procedures and those used by other accredited universities."

The article's cast of characters includes WVU President Mike Garrison, who took office Sept. 1 and is described as "a high school classmate of Ms. Bresch and longtime friend of the Manchin family."

Quote of the Day

"I just want West Virginia to get the $4 million. If someone is generous enough to pay it, that's fine."

- Gov. Joe Manchin, to The Associated Press regarding the buyout clause in the contract of now-former WVU head football coach (and lifelong friend) Rich Rodriguez.

School officials argue that Rodriguez triggered that clause by leaving for Michigan, but "several wealthy donors to the school have alleged WVU let down its coach," AP reports.

This Week in W.Va. Gambling

The Associated Press reports on the debut of more casino table games at West Virginia's two Northern Panhandle racetracks. Roulette and blackjack have joined the poker games that began there in October.

The Intelligencer of Wheeling marks the expansion of legalized gambling in that city, at the redubbed Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, and in nearby Hancock County with the additional games launched at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.

The tracks pursued table games to blunt the loss of gamblers to the slot machine venues opening in Pennsylvania. The poker tables at Wheeling Island and Mountaineer "brought in a better-than-expected $1.39 million of revenue in November," The Charleston Gazette reports.

The Gazette also reports that after endorsing table games for its local track (by a 2-1 vote) , the Kanawha County Commission plans to ask the Legislature next month "to put a stop to neighborhood gambling parlors."

Home Rule in the Mountain State

Huntington's city council plans to vote Friday whether to move forward under a "home rule" pilot project that would allow it greater tax-levying and other powers.

The Herald-Dispatch has the details. Among its components, the home rule plan would "overhaul the city's tax structure by implementing a sales tax and/or occupation tax and repealing the $2-a-week user fee and reducing the business and occupation tax," the newspaper reports.

Wheeling, meanwhile, submitted its plan to take part in the five-year pilot program earlier this week, The Intelligencer reports. Public Broadcasting examines that city's proposal as well (with audio).

Up to five municipalities can participate. Bridgeport has also approved a plan, Weirton's was defeated by its city council and Fairmont's foundered over constitutional concerns, the Herald-Dispatch reports.

Starcher Out in '08

Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher will not seek another 12-year term next year, the court announced Thursday.

"By the end of next year, I will have served the West Virginia judiciary for 32 years. It has been an honor to have worked for the people of our State for so long," Starcher, a former circuit judge, said in the release. "I am making this announcement because there are several very good candidates who have expressed interest in running for the Court in 2008. They need to know my intentions."

The Associated Press has coverage, as does MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette.

Starcher explained to the latter that his statement in the release meant
“Don’t elect any incumbents." Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, who like Starcher won his high court seat in 1996, is running for re-election.

20 December 2007

They Voted For You: Iraq & Federal Spending II

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted for the $555 billion spending measure that includes $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against the bill, which prevailed 272-142.

The vote sends the measure to the president, and ends a failed effort by some Democrats "to use war spending legislation to force a change in Bush's Iraq policy," The Associated Press reports.

"But Bush and Republicans held a powerful hand. They knew Democrats would not let money lapse for troops overseas," the article continues. "That allowed a Bush veto in May and GOP stalling tactics to determine the outcome."

Some of that conflict was on display when the bill passed the Senate earlier this week.

Battling Tobacco in the Mountain State

While it labors with one of the highest percentage of smokers and "dippers" in the country, West Virginia reports inroads in reducing tobacco use, The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports.

"State data shows a decline in the adult smoking rate for four consecutive years, the first time such a drop has been recorded," Breen found. "The drop in underage smoking has been more dramatic. From 2000 to 2005, the smoking rate among high school students dropped from 38.5 percent to 27.8 percent."

This "despite a roughly $21 million gap between what the state spends on prevention and what the federal government recommends," Breen reports.

"Roughly 4,000 West Virginians die every year from tobacco-related causes, while direct health costs stemming from tobacco annually cost the state roughly $1 billion, according to figures from the state Department of Health and Human Resources," the AP article said.

W.Va.'s Sporting Economy

Both The Register-Herald of Beckley and the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg have takes on a new report that ranks West Virginia 16th for the hunting and fishing component of its economy.

"More than 25,000 jobs are directly supported by West Virginia hunters and anglers, the report said, which produced $491 million in paychecks," the Beckley article said. "This also results in big benefits to state and local coffers with another $172 million generated through taxes."

The Parkersburg paper noted the report's comparison that "
Sportsmen support twice as many jobs in West Virginia as the Ruby Day Surgery Center in Morgantown and the Charleston Area Medical Center combined (25,000 jobs vs. 11,000)."

State Trims Jail Fees

Counties across the state are reacting to a move by the regional jail authority to whittle down the daily per-inmate fee it charges them by two percent.

"While the difference is only 97 cents per inmate each day, it represents an estimated $100,000 annual savings for Kanawha County alone," The Associated Press reports.

Those gauging local reaction, to an issue that prompted a Supreme Court fight, include The Register-Herald of Beckley, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, the Charleston Daily Mail, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, and MetroNews.

19 December 2007

They Voted For You: Iraq & Federal Spending

In the end, Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., joined the majority in passing a massive, $555 billion spending bill Tuesday.

But the final 76-17 vote followed a series of other roll calls that focused on a provision "to provide $70 billion for U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan," as The Associated Press reports.

The final vote on that provision was 70-25, with Rockefeller in the majority by Byrd voting "nay."

The Democratic leadership's approach to Iraq war funding had required at least 60 votes to proceed, but failed 48-46 with Byrd and Rockefeller both on the losing side.

Aided by as many as 21 Democrats and by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Senate Republicans turned back several other related measures:

  • By 50-45, an amendment "to express the sense of Congress on the transition of the missions of United States Forces in Iraq to a more limited set of missions as specified by the President on September 13, 2007." Rockefeller and Byrd both supported the measure;
  • By 24-71, an amendment "to provide for the safe redeployment of United States troops from Iraq." Rockefeller and Byrd both supported the measure.

Not All is Rosy for W.Va. Tracks

With its Northern Panhandle sisters expanding their casino table game offerings this week, Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center has "hit a snag and delayed starting poker games until next year," The Associated Press reports.

"Officials had hoped to begin offering poker games at the first of the year," the article said. "But officials at the Nitro track said there have been problems with getting classes for poker dealers up and running."

Meanwhile, officials at one of the panhandle tracks tell The Intelligencer of Wheeling that an indoor smoking ban "would have as much a negative effect on the track’s bottom line as competition from Pennsylvania slot machines."

As the Kanawha County Health Department expanded its ban on smoking to include all areas of Tri-State last month, "this move has sparked some interest among Ohio County health officials to stop smoking in all areas of Wheeling Island’s track," that newspaper reported.

Sharpton Shows Up

The Rev. Al Sharpton, activist and 2004 presidential candidate, highlighted a Tuesday rally meant to drum up support for hate crimes charges in the Megan Williams case.

"If the federal government can intervene to protect dogs from Michael Vick in Virginia then they can do something to protect Megan Williams in West Virginia," Sharpton told The Associated Press' Shaya Tayefe Mohajer.

Sharpton addressed a crowd of about 100 at First Baptist Church in Charleston. "Sharpton pledged to talk about the case every day on his syndicated radio talk show, and presented Megan Williams' mother, Carmen, with a $1,000 cash gift," AP reported. "Megan Williams did not attend the event."

Others who covered the rally include The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews (with audio of Sharpton and of fellow activist Malik Shabazz).

WSAZ-TV has raw video of Sharpton's entire remarks. WOWK-TV has video as well, while WCHS-TV has a preview segment.

18 December 2007

Senate Dems Byrd Hunting?

The Politico reports today that "A group of Senate Democrats has begun quietly exploring ways to replace the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee."

But a figure in one scenario of the alleged conspiracy, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., "denied any plan to replace Byrd, adding that she has not been approached by any colleague with such a proposal," The Associated Press reports.

The Politico article said that while "Democratic insiders caution, though, that no decision has been made," there is "is broad discontent among committee members over the way Byrd has run the panel this year and the resulting problems in completing work on the fiscal 2008 spending bills."

"His physical condition has been slowly deteriorating for years, and he cannot walk now without the assistance of aides," that article continues. "Byrd has difficultly running committee hearings, and he relies heavily on staffers for guidance."

Byrd staffers told The Politico that "they had not heard any proposals to oust the senator," and "defended the job he has done under difficult circumstances."

Murray, meanwhile, told AP, "As far as I'm concerned, there is no truth to this story. I will continue to work with Chairman Byrd and other members of leadership to pass spending bills that reflect the priorities of the American people."

Questions about Byrd's age and health circulated earlier this year.

2007 has also been marked by the senior senator's denunciation of dogfighting, his quizzing of Iraq war planners, his handling of both administration officials and hecklers at a committee hearing, and his speech before President Clinton's at a Democratic Party dinner.

He also recently celebrated his 90th birthday, as well as the unveiling of his portrait on Capitol Hill. And, he met Bo Derek.

Update: Byrd gave one of several Senate floor speeches earlier this afternoon honoring a departing Sen. Trent Lott, and the Mississippi Republican returned the favor in thanking his colleagues for their kind words.

Prompt Ruling Urged in Manor Care Case

A national nursing home chain does not want to wait until January to hear whether West Virginia health care regulators will allow the sale of its Mountain State facilities to proceed.

Manor Care argues the delay is costing its investors $1 million a day, its officials told The Associated Press' Tom Breen.

Those investors include the state, which holds about 161,000 shares of Manor Care stock with funds from state pension programs, AP reports.

The Health Care Authority does not expect to rule until after New Year's Day on a request to reconsider its earlier approval of The Carlyle Group's buyout bid.

The authority has placed a stay on that earlier decision, and AP reported on Friday's rehearing in the case.

The labor union that has pushed for the reconsideration told Breen that "slowing down the process is the right way to ensure that any questions about changes to patient care and staffing levels are adequately addressed."

W.Va. Governor Weighs in on Coach's Exit

Gov. Joe Manchin wants his longtime friend, departing WVU football coach Rich Rodriguez, held to the clause that would require him to pay $4 million to get out of his contract.

The Charleston Gazette, among others, have reported on Manchin's comments in the wake of Rodriquez's decision to leave for the University of Michigan's program.

Amid its thorough coverage of the move, MetroNews has a lengthy interview with the governor on the topic (with audio).

Manchin has issued a statement on the coach's resignation, and is also urging fans to not let that loss deter them from attending the Fiesta Bowl.

17 December 2007

W.Va. as a Casino State

Nearly two months after they debuted their poker rooms, West Virginia's two Northern Panhandle tracks plan to unveil other forms of newly-legal casino table games, The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports.

"Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort will host charity events Monday and Tuesday nights to kick off their introduction of roulette, craps and blackjack games to the local community," the article said. "Pending approval by the West Virginia Lottery Commission, paying games will start at 10 a.m. Thursday."

The State of W.Va.'s Courts

Two WVU political science professors have sought to shine a light on the actual workings of the Mountain State's civil justice system by highlighting available data and the lack thereof.

As The Associated Press reports, the resulting report out of the school's Institute for Public Affairs finds "a good deal of sound and fury, but few facts to support the notion that the Mountain State is a 'judicial hellhole.'"

The report appears in the latest issue of the Public Affairs Reporter.

The report culls data from the National Center for State Courts to present what available figures say about civil filings in the state. But the researchers also found that in the absence of supporting data, "business interest groups" have nonetheless portrayed West Virginia as lawsuit-happy."

"As a social scientist, what is so troubling is looking at what they do. It's a totally unscientific, self-fulfilling cycle,'' a co-author of the report told AP. "To them, we're this hellhole without them ever trying to measure whether we are.''

Those interests include the state Chamber of Commerce, which includes the state's court system among its legislative proposals pitched to The Register-Herald of Beckley.

The Charleston Gazette focused on the researchers' survey of circuit judges. "The vast majority of circuit court judges — 77 percent — responded that there had not been an 'explosion of frivolous litigation,'" the Gazette notes.