West Virginia editorial roundup

By Kyle Lovern

October 16, 2013

The Associated Press

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Oct. 13

News and Sentinel, Parkersburg, W. Va., on bad management:

In late September, the West Virginia Legislative Auditor reported a multi-year, $38 million communications tower project was mismanaged badly. State purchasing laws were broken, the auditor said.

At the heart of the problem were two state officials, homeland security Director Jimmy Gianato and emergency communications Director Joe Gonzalez.

Exactly what happened and why ought to be the subject of a thorough investigation, as has been suggested on several occasions.

But since then, new information has surfaced, leading to another question: Given their histories of ignoring the law and orders from the governor’s office, why on earth are these men still employed by the state?

At one point, Rob Alsop, then chief of staff for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, sent an email message to Gianato and Gonzalez about state law requiring (that) bids be solicited for part of the tower project. “You have been told for months that this needed to be re-bid … there is still nothing in process,” Alsop chided the two.

Finally, bids were sought and the project was completed legally. But, according to the auditor, some of the $38 million was handled illegally.

In the private sector, most people ignoring orders from the boss would be fired.

Why hasn’t that happened in this case?




Oct. 14

The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W. Va., on strengthening school-day rule is a major step forward:

The West Virginia Board of Education took a step last week that, if enforced, could mean students in some county school systems are no longer short-changed when it comes to instructional time.

The board unveiled a new policy — expected to go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year — that requires counties to develop an annual school calendar guaranteeing at least 180 days of instruction. That has always been the supposed requirement, but the new policy also requires the counties’ calendars to include a plan to compensate for days lost when inclement weather forces schools to be closed. That often was not built in to school calendars of the past.

The new policy, stemming from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education reform bill, also would require faculty senates to meet during non-instructional days so that schools can’t cancel classes for professional development.

Both changes mark a significant improvement in ensuring West Virginia’s public school students receive the required 180 days of instruction — again, if the new policy is enforced better than the old one.

Even though the previous policy called for 180 days of instructions, many of the state’s 55 county school systems would fall short year in and year out. …

We hope the new policy will put an end to those practices and ensure that students indeed have 180 days of instruction. That’s important, because overall achievement levels of West Virginia’s students generally fall lower than their counterparts in many other states. Shorting the students on instruction time only detracts from efforts to help them do better.

Overall, county school systems have gained more flexibility in developing their own school calendars, a point emphasized by state education officials. It’s good to know, however, that they will be held more accountable for devising calendars ensuring students get the required instructional time.




Oct. 9

Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette on upper Big Branch investigation continues:

More than three years after an explosion killed 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, the federal investigation continues. So do the consequences.

In September, David C. Hughart, 54, of Crab Orchard, was sentenced to 42 months in jail and three years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to two federal charges for his role in hiding safety violations from federal inspectors.

Hughart was not working at Upper Big Branch, but his guilty plea grew out of the UBB investigation, a probe that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin vowed to follow wherever it leads. And Hughart, having worked for a couple dozen subsidiaries of the former Massey Energy over 20 years, pointed all the way up the corporate ladder and implicated former CEO Don Blankenship as part of the conspiracy to subvert mine safety rules.

Rules that Massey employees consistently thwarted were paid for in the lives of earlier generations of miners who died by the scores and by the hundreds. Lessons from their deaths led to laws requiring proper ventilation and precautions against air full of combustible coal dust.

But lessons learned are not necessarily lessons applied, as the world saw at Upper Big Branch.

Three other former employees were sentenced previously. …

This is the most persistent mine disaster investigation in modern memory. Perhaps the prosecutions and penalties will warn others that when it comes to operating as safely as possible, there is a higher authority to answer to than just an employer.