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Mid-Ohio Valley has few Gov. Justice appointments


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va.  — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has made appointments to boards and commissions but with little representation from the Mid-Ohio Valley, local officials said.

Former Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy was appointed as Justice’s Secretary of the West Viginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety shortly after taking office.

However, other appointments from the Mid-Ohio Valley have not been as numerous.

”I find it hard to fathom a sitting state governor would intentionally ignore an entire region of the state,” said Jody Murphy, executive director of the Pleasants County Chamber of Commerce. ”I also find it hard to believe a longtime businessman like Jim Justice — who I knew and worked with almost 20 years ago — would have few friends in this area willing to serve or help.

”But it’s undeniable the Mid-Ohio Valley has been, and is being, ignored in terms of appointments to boards, commissions and departments,” Murphy said.

Previously, this area has had people serve on the state school board, parole board, head of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Department of Commerce and the Health Care Authority, Murphy said.

”We are woefully under-represented,” he said.

The Mid-Ohio Valley is one of the growing sectors of the state, with work being done in the production and development of oil and gas, and manufacturing operations that benefit not just West Virginia, but the entire region, Murphy said.

”We have a cornucopia of great capable leaders, volunteers and experts that could lend a lot of credence, insight and influence in the way the state operates and the directions it will move,” Murphy said. ”Instead, our region — not just one city, or one or two counties, but an entire region of West Virginia — is under-represented.”

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch said Wood County has had some high-profile appointments, including Keith Burdette, who was commerce secretary under Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and Patsy Hardy as DHHR secretary under Gov. Joe Manchin. He commended Sandy’s appointment.

”There are a handful,” Couch said.

In many cases, appointments are made based on availability.

”In my tenure as a county commissioner, it has been my experience that the majority of people appointed to boards are centered around Charleston, because it is accessible and they can make themselves available,” Couch said. ”It is not a long commute (from around Charleston).”

Wood County Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said he had previously served on the state parole board and had to travel around the state on a daily basis.

”I put 63,000 miles on a car in two years,” he said.

Many appointments come through people’s participation in an official’s election campaign, Colombo said.

Also, this area has not produced a lot of candidates for the high offices of the state recently, including governor, Couch said, adding some have run but have not been elected.

Butch Antolini, director of communications for Gov. Justice, said there have been appointments made from Wood County, including Dale Lowther on the Higher Education Policy Commission Board of Governors; Fred Earley on the West Virginia Osteopathic School Board of Governors; Tara Welty on the Board of Acupuncture; Dan Marshall on the Lottery Commission and Randall Rapp on the Workforce Development Board.

For Wirt County, Janet Somerville on the Commission for National and Community Service.

For Roane County, Manuel Campos on the Statewide Independent Living Council.

For Jackson County, Trina Clark on the Developmental Disabilities Council; Zachary M. Tennant on the Joint Advisory Council on Limited Prescriptive Authority; David Mullins as a Commissioner of the Division of Labor; Dick Waybright on the Property Valuation Training and Procedures Commission; and David G. Bowyer on the Board of Pharmacy.

There are no appointments from Pleasants County or Ritchie County.

Antolini had no further comment on the situation.

Mid-Ohio Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jill Parsons said people from all over the state are needed in these appointments to best represent the interests of the entire state.

“It is important to have diversity of perspectives from across the state when selecting appointees for state boards and other agencies,” she said. ”Wood and the surrounding counties certainly have a lot to talented people to offer for consideration.

”We would hope as the governor gets more familiar with our part of the state and the people here, we could see additional representation from the Mid-Ohio Valley in various agencies and appointments,” Parsons said.

Among the means of magnifying the message of the Mid-Ohio Valley and other regions along the Ohio River is the creation of a legislative caucus, according to Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood.

Kelly and Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, have discussed the creation of the caucus for several years. Kelly said he hopes the caucus could be established in time for the next session of the Legislature.

The caucus would be called the Ohio River Caucus or Ohio Valley Caucus and would basically encompass the counties along the Ohio River, he said.

“It would be a group speaking with one voice, which actually carries more weight,”Kelly said.

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