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Volunteers and staff at Braxton County school cleaning up after weekend flooding

FLATWOODS, W.Va. — Volunteers and staff at Braxton County’s Flatwoods Elementary School spent Monday running the shop vac and manning the mops as cleanup got underway from a weekend deluge.

“On the road side of the building it’s in all the classrooms from the gym up through the cafeteria,” said Principal Natalie Hissam.

The water resulted from a cloudburst on Sunday, one of many which struck across most of West Virginia. The heavy rain dumped several inches in a quick amount of time. Like most places, the drains couldn’t handle the runoff and the water had to go somewhere. This time, that somewhere was through the front of the building.

Despite having a few inches inside, Hissam noted the floors were tile and apparently held up well. There were some boxes of paper and a few supplies which sat on the floor and were ruined. Those which were kept on shelves above the floor were okay. Carpet in Hissam’s office will need to be replaced and she said there was significant damage to the playground.

Volunteers and staff had most of the water out and the mud cleaned up by noon Monday.

“Staff and volunteers coming together and cleaning up, we’ve got most of it cleaned up in a first round. We have to go back through and use bleach in the second round,” Hissam said.

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Judge grants unions’ injunction over ‘Paycheck Protection Act’ as it was about to go into effect

A Kanawha Circuit judge put a halt to a new state law that forbids employers from deducting union dues from public employees’ paychecks.

A dozen unions say House Bill 2009 was passed and signed into law solely in retaliation after the statewide teachers strikes of the past few years. The law was going into effect this Thursday.

Tera Salango

“I do find and believe the petitioners will suffer irreparable harm without this injunction,” said Kanawha Circuit Judge Tera Salango.

“The governor and many members of the Legislature have not hidden their dislike for the labor unions. There have been open attacks on the unions in the media, and they are welcome to criticize who ever they please but when a law is passed that treats a certain group differently from others, then it should be subject to additional scrutiny.”

The judge added, “Our efforts should be to protect working men and women the same as all others.”

The order is in effect until Salango has a full hearing on the merits of the case.

Dale Lee

“This is a small and positive step in what will be a long, drawn out legal battle. We will not let  them destroy unions in West Virginia. We will double our efforts in making sure all of our members have changed their dues payment method from payroll deduction to ensure coverage and protection,” stated Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, reacting to the ruling.

The Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Delegates passed the “Paycheck Protection Act” this past regular legislative session after several years of considering the bill. Gov. Jim Justice signed it into law, although he had criticized the policy in prior years.

Salango is married to Ben Salango, who ran as the Democratic challenger to Justice in the most recent General Election. Some of the unions contesting the Paycheck Protection Act were active supporters of Ben Salango’s campaign. Tera Salango defeated Dan Greear, longtime chief of staff for the House of Delegates, in the 2018 race for circuit judge.

The Monday afternoon injunction hearing lasted about an hour and a half. The judge heard from union leaders like Fred Albert of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and Elaine Harris of the Communications Workers of America, both of whom said it’s been a major challenge to communicate alternate ways to deduct union dues.

Also testifying was Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who said deducting union dues is a matter of a keystroke and no burden for the city.

The lawsuit over the law was filed by groups that include the AFL-CIO, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, United Mineworkers of America, Communication Workers of America and more.

Representatives of the state Senate and House of Delegates declined comment this afternoon about the judge’s ruling.

The new law is written to include “union, labor organization, or club dues or fees as deductions.” The bill applies to municipal, county and state employees who belong to unions, as well as school personnel represented by labor organizations.

Governor Justice, who was allied with teachers unions when he first ran as a Democrat and early in his time as a Republican, vetoed a similar bill when it passed in 2017 and argued against it when it was included in a 2019 omnibus education bill. The filing by the unions includes Justice’s veto note from 2017, which described the proposed changes as burdensome for employers.

But Justice’s relationship with union leaders deteriorated after they backed Ben Salango in the last election, and the lawsuit makes reference to several news articles underscoring that shift, including quotes from the governor about “union bosses.”

“The current governor and lawmakers do have educators and labor organizations in their sights. We cannot let our guard down – we must be prepared for the next battle,” said Lee of the WVEA, one of the unions in the lawsuit.

Withdrawals of union dues have been common practice by state government, counties, boards and municipalities where employees are represented by labor organizations. Once they’re withheld, the dues are passed along to the unions.

Such agreements typically renew from year to year unless canceled in writing by the union or the employee.

The lawsuit by the unions alleges violations of equal protection and contracts clauses of the West Virginia Constitution, as well as discrimination against the viewpoints of certain employees leading to a violation of constitutionally-protected free speech by the unions.

Fred Albert

Albert of the AFT-WV said only about a third of union members have made the transition to some other way of deducting union dues, which may include a bank draft or charging a credit card or debit card. He said that’s largely because so many have been busy or overloaded during this pandemic year.

“This has been the most challenging year for educators everywhere and it’s been most challenging for our staff to stay in touch with our members,” he said.

He added, “They’re busy. I’m not making excuses for them, but other things have been priorities.”

Albert said union leaders have tried to convey the change.

“We’ve sent out mass emails. We’ve had telephone town halls. We’ve sent out several paper mailings. Any method we can think of,” he said.

“We’re open to all avenues of communication. I’ve done several Facebook or YouTube presentations, trying to stay in touch with our membership to let them know what’s coming.”

Elaine Harris

Harris said the CWA is the broad organization representing workers in state corrections, State Police troopers and Alcohol Beverage Control employees.

She indicated the union has made almost no progress in converting those workers to some other way for union dues deduction.

“These are people who through no fault of their own, this will cease. We don’t have anything in place at the moment,” she said. “Since this bill has been passed, we’ve had members who are upset. They want their dues to be processed.”

Both Albert and Harris said the unions could have to make hard financial decisions if the flow of union dues is disrupted.

“With this bill passing it will present a real hardship. It will present a financial impact to those locals,” Harris said.

Steve Williams

Williams, the Democratic mayor of Huntington, said deducting the dues from paychecks is no problem.

“It’s not even something that’s so significant that we would count how much it costs,” he said. “There’s such a minimal amount of time, it’s not something we see as a significant action. It’s a matter of minutes, if not seconds.”

The mayor said employees covered under collective bargaining agreements feel assured by the automated deduction.

“Our employees want to have some level of certainty,” he said. “Our employees are happy, and there’s a level of satisfaction. Their morale is high. The resulting product, the services provided to the community, is much enhanced.”

Williams described an oddity of having the Legislature determine a policy that might be determined with more local insight by City Council, which he described in terms of a local legislative body.

“Our local legislature, city council members, the local chief executive, negotiated these contracts, came to an agreement with our employees,” he said. “The local legislature chose what is best for our community.”

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County leaders discuss federal funding plans at association of counties annual meetings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With more than $670 million in federal funding going directly to West Virginia’s cities and counties from the American Rescue Plan, the plans on how to spend it were part of the discussions at the West Virginia Association of Counties annual meetings.

The gathering of county leaders from clerks to sheriffs and commissioners began Sunday and runs through Tuesday at the Charleston Embassy Suites.

Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett, who is also on the board of directors for the National Association of Counties, said on Monday his national organization fought for more funding to come to the local levels. $65.1 billion is provided in direct aid to counties in the American Rescue Plan and an additional $1.5 billion for public land counties.

Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett

“We really reached out to our congressional members and said look ‘this money needs to go local and if it doesn’t go local, we don’t get much control of where it needs to go,'” Puckett said.

Puckett, who is also the chairman for the Rural Action Caucus, said his county’s focus will be on broadband, partnering with state monies, working across county lines, infrastructure on water and sewer projects, and micro-projects.

He told MetroNews about his plans for getting water and sewer over major interstate exits including Exit 1 to the industrial park, Exit 9 past Princeton, Exit 14 to Concord, and Exit 20 Camp Creek. He said if the county can develop lands and have those projects ready, it would bring in business.

The money is meant to be spent on water/sewer infrastructure, broadband, lost revenue, and hero-type pay. State Auditor J.B. McCuskey’s office, along with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s office, have traveled the state and designed a plan to make sure the money is spent effectively, legally, and transparently.

“When this money started coming out and he (McCuskey) knew that counties were going to get it, I think the major thing was how are we going to be accountable for the money,” Puckett said. “We don’t want to run into an issue where the feds come back to us in three or four years and say ‘you shouldn’t have spent it that way.'”

Puckett also preached patience with the money, as it doesn’t have to be spent until the end of 2024. Working with other counties on major projects can be done in that time frame, he said, including broadband. He said he is working with the Region 1 Planning and Development Council on broadband.

“We think we can create a broadband loop that will bring in about seven counties into that system and expand out opportunities in southern West Virginia,” Puckett said.

In Greenbrier County, Commissioner Tammy Tincher is also preaching patience.

WVACO

“We are not receiving all the funds at one time. We want to look at the best ways to be able to help the largest number of people in the county,” she told MetroNews.

When discussing the pandemic, Tincher said part of her focus will be to work with the health department on an expansion. She said they have employees at the county health department that do not have offices and funding from the American Rescue Plan can be used for a remodel of the building.

“Currently we have nurses who do not have offices and do not have working space. We do not have storage space,” she said.

Greenbrier County is receiving over $6.7 million from the latest COVID relief plan while Mercer County is getting over $11.4 million.

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Mountaineer men’s soccer program to join C-USA in fall 2022

West Virginia’s men’s soccer program is leaving the Mid-American Conference for Conference USA. The Mountaineers, members of the MAC since 2012, will join C-USA starting in the fall 2022 season.

With the addition of the Mountaineers, C-USA will have 10 members for men’s soccer, including 2020 national champion Marshall. The rest of the league includes: Charlotte, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Old Dominion, UAB and affiliate members Kentucky, South Carolina and Coastal Carolina (starting in fall 2021).

“As we continue to build upon this year’s national championship in men’s soccer and a very deep and talented lineup of teams, we are pleased to welcome another traditionally strong program in West Virginia to enhance one of our conference’s most successful sports,” C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said.

West Virginia finished 6-3-1 in the spring 2021 season, including 4-3-1 in the MAC.

Despite having the No. 12 RPI, WVU was not selected for the NCAA Tournament.

Former WVU player Dan Stratford became the the Mountaineers’ head coach in January 2020 after replacing Marlon LeBlanc, who held that title from 2006-20019.

“We’re very excited by the news and our conference realignment for the fall of 2022,” Stratford said. “I must thank Shane Lyons, Simon Dover and the rest of our administration for their help, support, and foresight in our program’s transition. Conference USA has quickly become a men’s soccer powerhouse, with so many reputable schools that have a strong tradition. Our program’s ambition is to compete with the very best in the country, and we believe that Conference USA provides us the platform to do that.”

The Mountaineers joined the MAC after they left the Big East Conference. In LeBlanc’s final season, WVU won the MAC Championship to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Butler before falling to Marshall.

“I want to thank the Mid-American Conference for providing WVU with a great home,” Stratford said. “I was part of the staff when we entered the MAC, and it has continued to be a tough league with a formidable RPI standing year after year. I have been particularly appreciative of my fellow coaches within the MAC, along with Jeff Bacon, who has done an incredible job navigating a very difficult campaign with the pandemic.”

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Road now honors Shirley Love, whose unique West Virginia life took many turns

Shirley Love, legendary broadcaster and legislator, is now remembered with his very own West Virginia country road.

The “Senator Shirley Love Memorial Road” was established with a ceremony Friday along Gatewood Road in Fayette County, where Love made his home. The original name, Gatewood Road, remains but signage will encourage community members and drivers to remember Love’s contributions.

Gatewood Road connects Fayetteville and Oak Hill, so the naming is a fitting symbol of community connections in Fayette County. The road is also considered to be County Route 9 and County Route 14

Austin Haynes

“He spent a lot of his time on Gatewood Road. He lived there. He raised his family there. A lot of the work that was done during his time in elected office, a lot of that work was done from Gatewood Road, so I thought that would be a fitting road,” said Delegate Austin Haynes, R-Fayette, who led the effort to honor Love with the road.

Haynes represents a different party than Love, a Democrat, did during his many years in the Legislature. But Haynes, like many who knew Love, expressed admiration for his fellow community member and legislative predecessor.

“We were on different sides  of the aisle but over the last couple of years that Shirley was with us, we had a chance to get to know each other better,” Haynes said. “He was always full of advice and words of wisdom.”

Love died last July at age 87.

He served one term, 2016 to 2018, in the House of Delegates and 14 years in the state Senate, 1994 to 2008.

Love is best known for his days as a broadcaster, spanning more than five decades.  He worked for WOAY in both radio and television from 1954 to 1997.

Love did the “Juke Box Review” for more than 20 years on radio. He was the voice of Oak Hill High School football and basketball games from 1954 until the early 1990s.

He also hosted the “Friday Night Barn Dance,” which featured local country and western musicians every Friday night — and another similar show on Saturday afternoon called the “West Virginia Jamboree.”

Perhaps he is most fondly remembered for broadcasts of “Saturday Night Wrestling,” pronounced “rasslin’”

Love eventually retired from broadcasting and went into sales for WOAY and then into state politics. He is also a member of the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Shirley Love working at WOAY Radio in the 1950s.

Honoring him with a road meant getting a resolution passed this year during the regular legislative session. Given how fondly people remember Love, it wasn’t hard. The resolution has a bipartisan list of sponsors filling six lines on the Legislature’s landing page.

“Whereas,” the resolution states, “early on, Love’s engaging, ever-present smile won him many lifelong friends and he quickly built a reputation in the state Legislature as a tireless worker, always willing to listen to the concerns of his constituents.”

The resolution continues that way, expressing admiration for Love’s singing voice and his colorful and productive life before finally resolving that signs in his memory should be placed at both ends of Gatewood Road.

A few weeks were needed to prepare the signs. This past Friday, a ceremony allowed family and admirers to see the installation of signs marking the “Senator Shirley Love Memorial Road.”

“It’s nice to see the signs up now,” Haynes said. “He deserved it, and the family deserved it too.”

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Jenkins makes interim appointment to judgeship in Wyoming County

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins entered an administrative order Monday appointing senior status judge Jim Rowe to replace Wyoming County Circuit Judge Warren McGraw on the bench until Gov. Jim Justice names McGraw’s replacement.

Wyoming County Circuit Judge Warren McGraw

McGraw announced his retirement last month. He said he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and that’s made it difficult to fulfill his duties.

McGraw’s retirement takes effect next Monday, June 21.

Rowe can began hearing cases the next day.

MORE Read administrative order here

Rowe’s been a senior status judge since 2016. The former state lawmaker was on the bench for 20 years in the 11th circuit that includes Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties.

McGraw, 82, was a two-term member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates and then served three terms in the state Senate, rising to become president. He won a Supreme Court seat in 1998.

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Local health departments, DHHR honored by West Virginia Association of Counties for pandemic work

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — County health departments around West Virginia and the state DHHR were honored on Monday for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic by the West Virginia Association of Counties.

During the association’s (WVACO) annual meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Charleston, officials on hand for each county accepted an “Outstanding Service” award to bring back to their local health departments. Dr. Ayne Amjad, the State Health Officer and Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, accepted the award for the DHHR and gave brief remarks.

Speaking with MetroNews, Amjad said it was a balancing act for many inside a local health department to deal with COVID-19 and continue with the normal health services. She said especially with not having the proper amount of staff to deal with a health pandemic.

“They had to deal with flu, they are still doing well visit check, GYN stuff, they still had to do tetanus vaccine. They had to juggle 10 other roles while still dealing with a COVID pandemic. They were stressed to the level that is unbelievable,” Amjad said of the work ethic of local health officials.

Tammy Tincher, a Greenbrier County Commissioner agreed with Amjad. She told MetroNews that health officials in her county have not gotten a break in 18 months even with dozens of volunteers helping with testing and vaccination clinics.

“They work all day, all night, holidays, weekends, they worked at home and worked at the office,” Tincher said. “Working on COVID issues while there were other issues such as regular, everyday services at the health department.”

Tincher was presented the award on behalf of Greenbrier County from Amjad and WVACO President, Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Riffle. She said in conversations with other county commissioners, many realized there was not enough space, staff and time to attack the virus early on and it put too much pressure on local health leaders.

She said since the early stages, her county has implemented guidelines in items to help in situations like they were in. Tincher said the commission is even looking into enlarging the size of the health department with federal COVID funding.

The Greenbrier County Health Department only has a handful of employees with the director, Bridgett Morrison, working full-time at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Tincher said.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done by counties and state levels to make sure that our health departments run smoother and provide better services. In situations like COVID or regular services offered,” she said.

Tincher also said that there could be improvements with communication between the state and local levels during the pandemic. She said it wasn’t on purpose but it was difficult to communicate between the two parties which caused ‘chaos’ that could have been prevented.

“It did cause a lot of alarm at times because things would be mentioned publicly before our individuals and people on the ground had that information. Social media caused the information to spread so much faster,” she said.

Amjad recognized the stress all parties were under to get out the right information.

“They got a lot of questions from the public because COVID wasn’t so black and white,” she said. “Every day we were getting fed information from the CDC, from multiple healthcare specialists. Counties also needed up-to-date information because people from their own level wanted information from physicians to regular, everyday people.”

Amjad noted that even with restrictions easing, the pandemic is not over. She said work with vaccinations still needs to be done, especially in the age range of 30-50-year-olds.

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WVU President Gordon Gee sounds off on proposed football playoff format

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first steps in a lengthy process to expand the College Football Playoff system are underway and West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee will be a voice in the discussions that could triple the size of the playoff field from four teams to twelve.

Gee, who formerly served two stints as the president at Ohio State University, was a vocal opponent of creating the original playoff setup while at OSU.

“I voiced my concerns publicly about the fact that I thought a playoff would harm college football. Well, I lost and I was wrong, which is not the first time,” Gee said on MetroNews Talkline Monday morning.

“We have been losing fan support and a number of other things. As with everything in life, we are in a fast forward world right now. This is probably the best solution to creating more interest in college athletics.”

.@gordongee joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the 12-team college football playoff proposal. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/OQUlOUjTqV

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 14, 2021

The proposed format will give first round byes to the teams seeded one through four. Teams seeded fifth through twelfth will play in on-campus first round games, setting up quarterfinal games on January 1 or 2. It is likely that traditional bowls will host games as they have previously done.

Gee is a member of the CFP board of managers. He says the CFP management committee sub-group that crafted the proposal looked at several options and the 12-team model gained the most traction.

“They came up with sixty permutations about this. They did think about six and eight and ultimately twelve. The reason is that we have the ‘Power 5’ conferences and then the ‘Group of 5’. We wanted to make sure we could get as many people on board without a lot of rancor.

“Secondly, one of the things that was most persuasive to me is that when you get closer to the end of the season, only a few teams are really in the hunt for being able to be in that four-team scenario. With twelve teams, there could be upwards of 30 to 40 teams that could still be in the hunt in October and November. That increases the possibility of college football having more fan support but also making it more exciting and more competitive.”

If there are no changes to the 12-game regular season schedule, college teams could play as many as 17 games. Gee says the academic component will be a significant topic of discussion on June 22.

“That’s one of the things we looked very carefully at. We will be talking about that a week from tomorrow when we have our meeting. The subcommittee has worked very hard at decreasing the amount of conflict we are going to have with academic calendar. That obviously is very important.”

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Bonus photo gallery: Class AAA state track and field meet

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More sights from the final day of high school track and field season, which culminated with Jefferson’s girls and Parkersburg’s boys winning team titles at University of Charleston Stadium.

(Photos by David Pennock)

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Cleanup is ongoing from weekend flooding at Burnsville library

BURNSVILLE. W.Va. — Motorists on I-79 ran into an unusual site in Braxton County Friday night.

A deluge of rain rain off the mountain, causing a mudslide. The mudslide blocked the culvert and diverted water runoff into the middle of the northbound lanes. It isn’t very often the interstate is flooded, but that was the case on Friday. Not far away folks at the Burnsville Public Library had their own set of problems as water was coming through a back wall.

“We had in some parts of the back room we have about a half inch in the library,” Library director Beth Anderson told MetroNews Monday.

Books and equipment stored on shelves were saved, but anything stored on the floor was water logged and lost. Fortunately, Anderson said that didn’t amount to too much.

“The carpeting is saturated and we’ll have to pull up the carpet, but it doesn’t appear any of our collection or items were damaged. We did lose some book sale books,” she explained.

Crews were busy working to air out the building with fans and get up the dirty carpet as quickly as possible on Monday.

According to Anderson, they used to have backups from a storm drain which couldn’t handle big storm runoff near by. However, she said that problem was fixed back in 2019 and Sunday’s high water was from a new source which came as a surprise.

“We believe it’s probably storm runoff. We’re only a little place from where the interstate was closed. It must have gotten hit hard, but honestly we can’t pinpoint where the water came from, ” she said.

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