18 April 2008

Quote of the Day

"(W)e cannot avoid the conclusion that the proposed settlement is anything other than one more bad bargain between the unsophisticated 'locals' and the folks on the big ships in the harbor with all those flashy beads."

-- The West Virginia Sierra Club, reacting to a deal reached between Public Service Commission staff and Allegheny Energy over the latter's proposed $1.3 billion power line project, as reported by The Charleston Gazette.

W.Va. & TrAIL

Public Broadcasting reports that "Allegheny Energy’s efforts to build a high voltage power line through north central West Virginia took a big step forward this week," under a deal reached with the state Public Service Commission and its consumer advocate. "The West Virginia Energy Users Group, which represents several large industries in the region, was also part of the agreement," the report said, but "local citizens groups were not."

With audio. Others with reports include The Charleston Gazette, which also focused separately on citizen reaction.

Study Estimates Cost of Single-Parent Families to W.Va.

A group called the Institute of American Values has released a report that suggests that "the breakdown of marriage is costing state taxpayers $231 million a year," MetroNews reports.

Jeremy Dys, executive director of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, appeared on MetroNews' Talkline to tout the study, and to argue that it should "get the state involved in helping marriages last."

MetroNews also offers audio.

Zoning in W.Va.

The state Supreme Court has ordered the Jefferson County Planning Commission to reverse the denial of a permit to "developers of a controversial 152-home community in part of the Shepherdstown Battlefield area," The Journal of Martinsburg reports.

(The article explains that while some consider the battle "a significant factor in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s decision to retreat farther into the Shenandoah Valley" in 1862, but that the developers argued that it "occurred about one mile away from the proposed project site" and that "the battlefield area has never been listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the state’s historic register.")

Federal Judge Adds to MTR Rulings

A federal judge has "blocked additional valley fill activities at locations with three new mining permits until the mine operators provide details of how far work on valley fills has progressed at those sites," The Charleston Gazette reports.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers also said "the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must stop stonewalling environmental group requests for information about new mountaintop-removal mining permits," the article said.

W.Va. Lottery Seeks Monopoly on "Casino"

"The arrival of table games in West Virginia is bringing a halt to casino-themed fundraisers sponsored by nonprofit groups and civic clubs," the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports.

The newspapers cites the example of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra's plan to hold an April 25 fundraiser with the theme "Bright Lights Vegas Nights."

"For $100, guests could win play money at slots, roulette wheels, blackjack and craps tables and use their fake winnings to bid on prizes donated by local businesses," the article said. "However, the state Lottery Commission informed the orchestra through Gov. Joe Manchin's office Tuesday that casino-themed fundraisers are no longer allowed in West Virginia if they include the elements of consideration, chance and prize."

17 April 2008

DaughterGate Takes a Twist (2nd Update)

The Associated Press' Vicki Smith talked to another graduate of WVU's EMBA program who "says that just like the daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin, she was given flexibility to complete course work outside the classroom ." (See update below)

Sherry Korczynski, a recent hire at Mylan where Heather Bresch is COO, said that then-director Paul Speaker was "flexible and accommodating in helping her complete her required credits with 'independent study,' eager to make what was then a fledgling program appear successful," the article said.

Speaker had earlier told AP that "he could not recall ever allowing outside work to replace classroom work 'in the history of the EMBA program.'" Korczynski told AP that his comment "was in complete contrast with the arrangements he made for me... He allowed me great flexibility and leniency in completing the requirements."

Korczynski also said that she spoke Wednesday to the investigative panel assigned to review the awarding of Bresch's EMBA. "Korczynski, 39, said she met Bresch, 38, for the first time last week," the AP article said. "She went to the panel only to highlight an apparent contradiction, not to help a co-worker, she said."

Update: Korczynski told AP Thursday that she "earned the last 10 credit hours through independent study," and NOT on-the-job experience. "I did not have to be in my class," she told AP. "My arrangement with Dr. Speaker was to complete each class remotely on my own in Philadelphia."

Update II: Citing the AP interview, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that "The situation involving Ms. Korczynski, who told the AP she was hired by Mylan in January as director of business development, appears to be different than the one that Ms. Bresch...says she arranged. The E.M.B.A. program was designed in part to allow students to do course work outside the classroom, but Ms. Bresch told the AP last week that Mr. Speaker allowed her to substitute work experience for 10 credits."

The newspapers also repeats its earlier findings that "officials added six courses and grades, worth 16 credits, to her transcript without any record of her registering, paying or doing the work for the classes, and without consulting the professors who taught the courses. In addition, two courses that had been marked "incomplete" were changed to letter grades. The rewriting of her record was done after the newspaper sought to confirm Ms. Bresch's academic credentials following her promotion to Mylan's chief operating officer in October."

"Shut Up!"

That's what U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said to a reporter Thursday who had "asked him what he had to say to colleagues and staff aides whispering that maybe he's not up to chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee," The Associated Press reports.

Byrd "made his remarks after chairing a two-hour hearing on the administration's Iraq war funding request, a session that the media and some of Byrd's colleagues viewed as a key test for the chairman," the article said. "Byrd performed steadily Wednesday, even though he relied on prepared statements when opening the hearing and asking questions of administration witness Jim Nussle, head of the White House budget office. But Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., did so as well."

The appearance follows reports in Capitol Hill newspapers and elsewhere, and a less-than-flattering portrayal on Saturday Night Live (though the part about moving the Iraqi museum of antiquities to Wheeling was a nice touch).

Others with reports include The Hill, Politico and Roll Call (subscription required). Closer to home, The Register-Herald of Beckley has a story.

16 April 2008

Election 2008 Shorts (Updated)

  • Democratic congressional candidate and former South Charleston mayor (and Republican) Richie Robb has agreed to represent GOP gubernatorial candidate Russ Weeks (a former state senator) in his announced lawsuit challenging "a retroactive increase in per diem allowances for lawmakers," The Register-Herald of Beckley reports. The Charleston Gazette also has a story.
  • An unidentified stockholder wants greater disclosure of Massey Energy's political expenditures, citing past campaigns bankrolled by CEO Don Blankenship, The Associated Press reports. The proposed resolution was part of an SEC filing that details compensation for Blankenship that totaled $23.7 million in 2007, AP calculates.
  • The Register-Herald also covered a recent candidates' forum for area legislative candidates, while The Journal of Martinsburg profiles a local House hopeful.
  • The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports on appeals to labor made by Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in advance of neighboring Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.
  • (Update) The Associated Press looks at campaign finance reports from West Virginia's congressional incumbents and challengers.
  • (Update) The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington highlights upcoming candidate forums in the secretary of state and Supreme Court races.

Funding "Birth to Three" in W.Va.

The Charleston Gazette follows up on its report of a funding crunch facing a state program for developmentally delayed infants and toddlers, with officials proposing that enrollees' parents pick up more of the costs.

"I want to look at every part of the program to see what opportunities there are for cost-sharing," Health and Human Resources Secretary Martha Walker told The Gazette. "It's a wonderful program, but there's not a never-ending pool of money to fund it. Cost-sharing has to be part of the solution."

DaughterGate Makes It To Court

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has filed the lawsuit it threatened a month ago, suing "West Virginia University for failing to comply with the state's open records law."

"The newspaper alleges the university committed numerous violations in its response to requests for documents related to the school's decision last fall to retroactively award a master's of business administration degree to Mylan Inc. executive Heather Bresch, daughter of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin," the Post-Gazette reported.

Filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court, "the suit alleges that WVU failed to respond in a timely manner to a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, withheld public records that are not privileged or otherwise exempt from disclosure and concealed information by intentionally misapplying exemptions under the law," the article said.

The newspaper earlier posted a graphic to illustrate its findings regarding's Bresch's record at WVU.

Public Broadcasting also has a report from the first WVU Faculty Senate meeting since "Bresch broke her silence about the controversy surrounding her business masters degree." With audio.

President 2008: Coal

Public Broadcasting examines the dueling Democratic campaigns on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky through the prism of one of their leading industries.

One big issue is whether to support a moratorium on new construction of coal-fired power plants," the report said. "It’s led to some interesting double-talk from both."

15 April 2008

W.Va. Toddler Program Left in Funding Lurch

West Virginia's "Birth to Three" program, which serve "more than 5,600 developmentally delayed infants and toddlers," is on track to complete the budget year June 30 "with a $3 million deficit," The Charleston Gazette reports.

"The number of children with developmental delays enrolled in the program has increased by 2,000 during the past five years, but state and federal funding hasn't kept up," the article said. "The state has fallen weeks behind in reimbursing nurses and therapists who work with children in the program."

Cancer Stalks The Mountain State

Partly attributed to the lack of screenings, "West Virginians are more likely than residents of any other state to die from the second-most common form of cancer," The Associated Press reports.

AP's Tom Breen culls from a recent report by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to find that "about 22 West Virginians per 100,000 residents die every year from colorectal cancer," while "nationally, the average fatality rate is 17.8 per 100,000."

Nancy Roach with the Colorectal Cancer Coalition told Breen that "the main reason more West Virginians are not screened is a lack of health insurance... More than 245,000 West Virginians are uninsured."

Income in W.Va.

"The income gap between West Virginia's richest and poorest families grew faster than in all but seven other states since the 1990s," The Charleston Gazette reports, citing a new study.

"The Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, looked at income data dating back to the late 1980s," the article said. "The study found that during the late 1990s, incomes grew for both rich and poor. But the 2001 economic downturn ended that. Incomes stagnated or fell for poor and middle-income families, but rich families recovered - partly thanks to the federal tax cuts of the early 2000s, the report states."

Teacher Pension Transfers

The Charleston Gazette reports that "in the first 10 days of the six-week pension transfer election, only 386 teachers and school personnel in the Teachers Defined Contribution plan have opted to transfer to the Teachers Retirement System."

The article cites figures posted by the Consolidated Public Retirement Board. At least 12,343 enrollees must elect to move for a transfer to occur. "The election period closes May 12, which is the final day that TDC participants can either mail in transfer forms, or submit them to their supervisors," the article said.

14 April 2008

Election 2008 Shorts (2nd Update)

  • The Associated Press sifts through campaign finance reports from legislative races to see the House and Senate candidates had raised nearly $2 million as of late March. AP also ID's the most flush campaigns, and the big spenders.
  • West Virginia's Democratic Party held county-level conventions throughout the state in advance of its main June meeting. The Intelligencer of Wheeling has reports from both Ohio County and Marshall County, The Journal of Martinsburg covered those in the Eastern Panhandle, The Parkersburg News has Wood County's, The Charleston Gazette reports on Kanawha County, and The Register-Herald of Beckley covered Raleigh County's.
  • AP also interviewed all four candidates for secretary of state, finding that "updating campaign finance laws, improving voter turnout and changing the way polling places are run are some of the ideas from those wanting" the office.
  • (Update) The Charleston Daily Mail questions calls made by Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher on his state-issued cell phone to Menis Ketchum, a Democratic candidate for justice.
  • (Update) Will official filings expected this week, the Daily Mail also reports that "Anne Barth, a Democrat in the 2nd Congressional District race, has raised more than $330,000 since she filed her candidacy papers in late January."
  • (Update) Jefferson County Commissioner Rusty Morgan is withdrawing from the race for state Senate, following numerous operations to repair detached retinas, The Journal reports.