Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

The (Beckley) Register-Herald. Oct. 31, 2021.

Editorial: A blemish on the face of beautification

No question, major entryways into Beckley and Raleigh County need more than a simple sprucing up, more than trimming back a couple of briar patches or taking a small chain saw to a thatch of volunteer trees. Certainly, the effort needs more than mere lip service and a one-day litter sweep. The Gateways Project, spearheaded by the Beckley–Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce with a supporting cast of the Division of Highways, the City of Beckley and the Raleigh County commissioners, is a worthy and major undertaking and it has our support.

As we build more attractive introductions to our communities, we need to be mindful about doing the work in a top-shelf manner that is fully representative of the people who live here. We should not attempt to cut corners and pull some stunt that embarrasses us as a community.

And yet that is exactly what happened recently when it was publicly revealed that Raleigh County commissioners, acting on behalf of the beautification project, had taken possession of a 1.2-acre piece of property via eminent domain – for the cut-rate offer of $1,000.

It wasn’t just that the offer was so obviously and insultingly below market vaue. But more damning was that the county, through its agents, tried to roll a Black couple in the process. There is nothing that speaks quite so loudly and clearly about the character of a place than when the powers that be try to take advantage of a racial minority.

Well, we have some news for you: That’s not who we are, and somebody owes someone an apology – and a much better offer.

Shauntell and Michael Durgan, who own the property in question in Glen Morgan on U.S. 19, recently appeared before the Raleigh County Commission to question the process by which their property was claimed as well as the offer.

Their commercial property, which they paid about $40,000 for and was listed at $59,000, was once the site of their restaurant, Yesterday’s on the Creek Bar and Grill. It had been reduced to rubble by a fire.

Later, saying what remained was a safety hazard, the county leveled the rest of the property, which included a basement slab and some walls. The couple was left with a sloping dirt lot, not a basement slab, and a $2,500 lien on the property for the cost of the demolition.

Shauntell Durgan said the couple intended to keep the property and park a food truck and set up tables on the remaining concrete slab.

And now, “We just want what’s fair,” Shauntell Durgan told commissioners at the the meeting a week ago this past Tuesday.

Raleigh County Commission President Dave Tolliver said the commissioners, at a staff meeting, had decided to hire a certified appraiser to verify the value of the property.

Once the apprisal is complete, Tolliver said, Raleigh County Commission Attorney Bill Roop would be in touch with the Durgans.

Shauntell and Michael Durgan both said they were pleased with the decision to have an appraisal, but – like the rest of us – question why that wasn’t done prior to the eminent domain claim.

“(Roop) is doing it backward,” Shauntell Durgan said. “He is trying to cover his self because he was trying to get it cheap. He knows a commercial property that’s 1.2 acres is worth more than a thousand dollars.

“He thought that we were ignorant and wasn’t going to fight it,” she said. “When he put in (the court filings) ‘fair price’ – a thousand dollars? That’s just like a slap in the face, like he gave me a dollar and told me to go home, little girl.”

Shauntell Durgan said she has also filed a civil rights claim with the Raleigh County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the way she believes Raleigh County has attempted to bully its way into taking the property.

“I think that race always plays into it especially if you’re female,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense. If they’re doing something for the community and it’s going to bring jobs and build the community up, I’m all for it. But why do I have to suffer? They need to be fair to us.”

Roop has defended the manner in which he and the county have gone about their business, saying the commission has followed state code.

And that is all well and good, but does not excuse the county from making a fair and resonable offer for the land, as it should have done. Our government should not be in the business of seeking to take advantage of its citizens, regardless of economic or social station. It should seek fairness, period, in all such matters.

As a community we can get all gussied up and look as clean, bright and attractive as any dot on the map. But if we are bulldozing racial minorities to take their property for the sake of a brand new pair of dress shoes, then we are headed down the wrong path – and that news will get out in front of us.

People will know.

If there is a do-over on this matter, we would suggest the county and the chamber find it. Then, we can all get back to putting our better face forward.

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Charleston Gazette-Mail. Nov. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Justice’s part of COVID briefings losing meaning

Gov. Jim Justice began his COVID-19 briefing Monday by reading the ages and counties of residence for all the West Virginians who have died because of the virus since his last briefing, as he has since the state recorded its first COVID-19 death nearly 19 months ago. He went through the active case and hospitalization information that anyone can see on the state Department of Health and Human Resources website.

Viewers then had to wait for several minutes before any other useful information was presented. Justice patted himself on the back for attending a band competition over the weekend and allowing bands to play at high school football games a year ago. He took credit for the state’s financial shape at a time when billions of federal dollars are propping up a sluggish economy. Of course, he also took the usual swipes at the news media for not giving him enough praise, saying some outlets are against reporting “good news.”

None of this had anything to do with COVID-19 in West Virginia. There was a considerable change in tone when Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, took over, mentioning the now 5 million lives lost globally to COVID-19, and noting that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is likely to issue recommendations for vaccinating children ages 5 to 11, who were previously ineligible for the shot. This is vital, Marsh said, because, with evolving variants of the virus, more children are getting sick from COVID-19 and they can also easily spread the virus.

Those are all important things to know, but you wonder how many viewers are still tuning in to the virtual briefings and how many of those stuck around after Justice’s political grandstanding to hear what Marsh and others had to say. (The governor went on another long-winded rant about the necessity of fossil fuels while accusing Democrats of trying to “buy” the midterm elections during the portion of the briefing when he fielded questions from the news media.)

The format of these briefings is unlikely to change. Justice doesn’t want to allow reporters to attend in person, because he and his team can’t cherry-pick who gets to ask a question, and can’t eliminate follow-ups.

It’s a crucial time, as it pertains to the virus. Deaths are mounting and, while active cases and hospitalizations are gradually dropping, public health officials have warned of another surge, once winter weather hits, especially with the state’s anemic vaccination rates. Last year, the Thanksgiving holiday kick-started a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that lasted nearly three months. That same holiday is now just a few weeks away.

It’s time to put the experts out front on this issue, if the briefings continue. Or perhaps Marsh and other members of the governor’s team, along with officials from the DHHR, should start having their own briefings, where the focus is solely on informing the public about what is happening with COVID-19. Remembering those who have lost their lives to this virus is an important part of the process, but Justice’s self-aggrandizing political schtick is irrelevant, uninformative and a disservice to those he would honor.

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Oct. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Tourism: We have much to offer if we don’t mess it up

West Virginians know that as part of our work to diversify the economy and protect our natural treasures, the travel and hospitality industries must grow. The Mountain State got a big boost in that direction as travel guide publisher Lonely Planet has named it one of the Top Travel Regions to visit in 2022. We are the only U.S. state to receive such a nod.

Others receiving the designation included Westfjords, Iceland; Scenic Rim, Australia; Vancouver Island, Canada; and Burgundy, France.

“2022 is the perfect time to discover West Virginia, a still-uncrowded region with unspoiled mountains and unmistakable heritage where the leisurely tempo of Southern small towns converges with the adrenaline sports that attract adventurers from across the continent,” Lonely Planet said.

It is wonderful to see the good work of West Virginia Department of Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby and her team coming to fruition.

“West Virginia is an incredible four-season travel destination, and we can’t wait to welcome new visitors as they plan their trips to the Best in Travel destinations for 2022,” Ruby said after the announcement.

But the work is not over. Among the unfinished tasks is for voters to remind some of our more extremist and backward-looking elected officials that behavior and outbursts during which they almost seem to revel in embarrassing the rest of us will no longer be tolerated. They do not represent us, and we cannot allow them to be the bad apples that ruin the bunch.

Assuming those few won’t be holding us back much longer, then, West Virginians should be thrilled with the opportunity to welcome visitors to our wild and wonderful state. We have so much to offer. It shouldn’t take much to get some of those visitors to make a return trip to Almost Heaven.

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