Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. Aug. 23, 2021.

Editorial: Justice’s COVID plan is to do nothing

On the same day that active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia hit more than 10,500 — more than 10 times the number from early last month — Gov. Jim Justice made it clear that he either doesn’t have a plan or his plan is to do nothing.

Justice has continued to hint that a mask mandate, something that West Virginia operated under for nearly a year, and other public health measures — including closing schools — might be necessary, if vaccination rates don’t improve and cases continue to go up. Because of the delta variant of the coronavirus, as of Monday, active cases were at a level not seen in West Virginia since late January. When, pray tell, will it register with the governor that his outlined conditions for action have been taking place for more than a month?

Instead, during his Monday briefing, Justice railed against bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., relating to the availability of booster shots. That’s a genuine concern, but it’s in distant second place, when a mere 50.3% of the state population has been fully vaccinated to begin with.

Before vaccines were developed, indeed, before they were widely available to the general public, Justice championed masks as the best tool for fighting the spread of COVID-19. When asked about a mask mandate on Monday, the governor undermined his own previous statements, questioning the effectiveness of masks, although he (perhaps accidentally) admitted it was more of a political concern.

“You know how crazy people get about the masks,” he said. “It’s like a hysteria.”

Better to have people content while sick and dying than preventing those illnesses, the governor apparently surmises.

After Justice’s careless answer, Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, immediately stated that masks give people a better chance at staving off infection or infecting anyone else. As more cases spread, even to those who have been vaccinated, Marsh advised that masks should be worn.

Even still, the root of the problem is the low vaccination rate. Justice’s promotions for chances at cash and other prizes, in exchange for getting vaccinated, are likely having some impact, but there hasn’t been a large uptick. The overall vaccination rate continues to climb at about a 10th of a percentage point each day, sometimes lower.

Instead of closing his briefing encouraging West Virginians to look out for themselves and each other, to be safe and to get vaccinated, Justice took a vindictive swipe at the Greenbrier County Board of Education. The board voted Monday morning against hiring the governor as the Greenbrier East High School boys basketball coach (he already coaches the girls team). Justice again suggested he could run the state and two high school basketball teams, asking that open question, “What have I missed?”

There’s a laundry-list reply to that for another day. In the moment, the governor missed the entire point of his job, and he forgot his promise from the beginning of the pandemic to do what is necessary to keep West Virginians safe, regardless of whether it’s a popular decision.

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The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Aug. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Transparency in ARP spending is crucial

The Cabell County Clerk’s Office is making a move toward more transparency in local government, and that’s a good thing.

County Clerk Phyllis Smith plans to ask the county commission to consider the use of a website so the public can track how $17.9 million in American Rescue Plan funds is spent.

“I think people will be looking to see where it’s going,” Smith told The Herald-Dispatch reporter McKenna Horsley.

The website is created by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office for local governments to use to report their ARP spending. Smith said she plans to reach out to the office for further information about implementing the website.

The ARP is part of a national stimulus package designed to help communities recover from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a one-time infusion of a large amount of money, and local governments must spend it wisely. Thus, it is imperative that the public can see where the money goes.

Anthony Woods, a West Virginia deputy state auditor, said the State Auditor’s Office has been working with local governments on Project Mountaineer to create websites similar to WVCheckbook.gov so the public may see how public money is spent.

“What we’re doing with this ARP stuff is we are giving folks the option to use that transparency portal to not only show their citizens where this ARP money is going, but also to assist those local governments in reporting to the Treasury,” Woods said.

He said the Auditor’s Office wants to give local governments that may not be familiar with federal grants tools to help with reporting the use of their funds to the federal government. The program is available at no cost to local governments.

The Auditor’s Office can assist with the management, setup and maintenance of websites to track ARP funds, Woods said. Some local governments add other information for the public, such as police department overtime, he said.

“If they want to make it just ARP-related, they can, but we certainly encourage all of our transparency partners to go the full mile and put everything out there,” Woods said.

Smith told Horsley the county could implement a similar program to report all spending someday.

Across the street, the city of Huntington has received about half of its $40 million in ARP funds. City Communications Director Bryan Chambers said the city will soon provide a summary of all ARP appropriations on its website and plans to update it regularly.

Cabell County and other local governments in West Virginia and elsewhere would be wise to accept such offers that give the public more access to information about how public money is spent. A little transparency now prevents a lot of problems in the future.

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Aug. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Perspective: Labor Secretary’s tour may do some good

There is value in walking in another person’s shoes. And while U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh wasn’t exactly suiting up for a day’s work in the underground coal mine he visited Wednesday, one would hope he learned a little more about the people whose livelihood are in jeopardy if the wrong decisions are made during the transition and diversification of our region’s energy portfolio and economy.

Walsh was invited to tour the American Consolidated Natural Resources’ Golden Ridge Portal Mine near Wheeling by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. After the visit, Walsh said the Biden administration would not be an enemy of the coal industry.

“I felt it was really important for me to go down and get a feel for what mine workers do,” Walsh said. “I have a different understanding and appreciation of the work.”

Understanding and appreciation are fine, but will they translate into a little common sense and compassion as policies are developed?

Manchin told reporters he used the event as an opportunity to discuss with Walsh the impact of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and his desire to ensure the Mountain State’s coal communities would not be left behind (again) as Washington, D.C., plows forward.

“I have always said the transition to a cleaner energy future must come from innovation, not elimination and the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate will do just that,” Manchin said.

But Walsh chose his words carefully.

“The president has goals of carbon neutrality and alternative energy sources,” he said. “Certainly these conversations need to happen. We do have an industry people are working in. They’re concerned about the future of their industry as well.”

Those working in coal jobs are concerned for the future of their industry in a way the bureaucrats and politicians making decisions in D.C. will never feel. But give Walsh credit for taking the trip underground, and learning a thing or two. Now, let us hope he does carry that different understanding and appreciation with him long enough to pass it along to those in the Biden administration who truly need it.

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