Governor Underwood
should sign open
meetings bill
    Hopefully, when Gov. Cecil Underwood returns to his office Tuesday from a trip to Japan, he’ll find on his desk legislation updating the state Sunshine Law — the state’s Open Governmental Proceeding Act.
To become law, the bill only needs the governor’s signature.
We hope he signs it.
    While far from perfect from our perspective — we’d endorse an even stronger open government bill —this legislation does a good bit to strengthen the rights of every West Virginian to watch and monitor their local and state governments as they conduct business on behalf of the citizenry.
    Specifically, House Bill 2005 is an improvement over the existing open meeting law because:
-It closes loopholes in the listing of exemptions that allow government bodies to meet in secret.
-It tightens and makes clearer language that defines “public meetings.”
-It requires public officials to be educated on the provisions of the open meeting law.
-It allows the tape recording of all public meetings.
-It prohibits voting in such a manner that might leave the public confused over who voted for what.
-It requires public bodies to issue agendas prior to any public meeting.
    Perhaps most importantly, we believe, the revised law boasts stronger language in its “Declaration of Legislative Policy,” the section that summarizes the intent of the legislature in passing this bill. That section reads:
    “The Legislature hereby finds and declares that public agencies in this state exist for the singular purpose of representing the citizens of this state in governmental affairs, and it is, therefore, in the best interests of this state for the proceedings of public agencies to be conducted openly. . .”
Open government is good government. Period.
    Unfortunately, it’s been the experience of staffers here at the Exponent and Telegram that not all public officials in our area recognize or remember the importance of open government. They close meetings all too often and discuss policy issues that should be debated openly. They close meetings to discuss staffing needs or job requirements and hiring practices. They close meetings to discuss tax policies and fee policies, which definitely should be discussed, debated and decided upon in full view of the citizenry. Some government bodies in our area also have been known to conduct meetings without inviting all members of that body!
    So, we can only hope that when the new open meeting bill finds its way to the governor’s desk during the next few days he’ll remember how important open government is. Then, we hope he’ll sign this bill into law.

A special time in Albright
    If you’ve gotten up early enough this morning, chances are good that you’re reading this column at the same time I’m winding my way east along U.S. 50 to the annual convention of the Burned Out Canoe Club.
    But if you’ve slept past 8 a.m., forget it. I’m already there, at Tonya’s Cheat Canyon Campground in Albright, W. Va., exchanging greetings with other members of this eclectic group of aging river rats and old hippies over campfire coffee, eggs, bacon and bagels.
    Somewhere near 100 people will attend this annual soiree, coming from all over West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Illinois. Members from Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state probably won’t be attending, but they’ll be there in spirit, I’m sure. Club members’ occupations are as diverse as their geography.
    Our fearless leader — more or less — is a plumber from Logan County named Fred Vaughn, also known as Yonk, whom I mentioned briefly in this column last week.
    Yonk pretty much holds onto the chair of this group by virtue of the fact that he seems to be the only person organized enough to set a date for our annual gathering. He also remembers to bring the funeral tent each year — to keep us dry in case of rain — and, he keeps us all supplied with official Burned Out gear (t-shirts, ball caps and bumper stickers).
Scuzzy Miller, a carpenter from Chillicothe, Ohio, will also be there.
    Over the years, Scuzzy has grown into the role of club sage.  Although he might not like it, Scuzzy has become a role model for our younger members. He’s also our conscience and our chief mother hen — our tribe’s wise man.
Others in attendance will be:
    Kim, a psychologist from the Cleveland area.
    Dangerous Dave White, a juvenile probation officer and our nation’s future, senior division, amateur pole vault champion.
    Slick, a construction supervisor from Oak Hill, W. Va.
    John K., head of the graphic arts department at Ohio State University’s College of Agriculture.
    Claire, an architect from Ohio.
    Barry, a maintenance worker for the U.S. Postal Service in North Carolina.
    Mike, a computer systems manager for Mead Corp. in Chillicothe, Ohio.
    Then there’s Joan the law student, Rags the prison guard, Buddy the home builder, Eddie the t-shirt maker, Alex the musician, Mike the ex-butcher (as in ex-baker and ex-candlestick maker), Bushy the electrician, Brad the cable guy, Beach the cabinet maker, Kevin the school counselor, John the pilot and farm implement dealer, Carl the world traveler and so on, and so on and so on.
    What the Burned Outs do for a living, however,  isn’t important. In fact, you have to log a lot of hours around the campfire before you learn what members do in the “real world.” That’s one of the things I like about this group — no one is hung up at all about their profession, occupation or place in their home community.
    Sure, we’ll talk about our jobs for a few minutes when we get together. For the most part, though, we’re swapping river lies, telling travel tales, discussing upcoming trips or talking about aging, politics, anything and everything.
    But what’s important to these folks is what they do in their spare time. And when the campfire dies, we’re all just river rats. Anyhow, how did Bill the editor get mixed up with this crew?
    It all started about eight years ago when I was guiding rafts for one of the big companies down on the New River. I was lamenting one evening to my friend and fellow guide Peggy about how much younger most of the other guides were, and how I was starting to get a little bored with their company. “Come on,” Peggy said. “I know just who you need to meet.”
    Minutes later I was in the parking lot being introduced to Scuzzy Miller and Hank Lewis, a tall, lanky, cigar-smoking, beer guzzling, somewhat boisterous, irreverent sort of guy. Hank, along with Scuz, was a member of the Burned Out Canoe Club, Peggy said.
I knew instantly that I’d like this crew.
    The Burned Out Charter, unwritten, of course, allows for no meetings (except for boating excursions and the annual convention, where we conduct no business), no dues and no officers. Criteria for membership includes a love of whitewater and the ability, or willingness, to have fun with a diverse crowd of people — that’s all.
    Back in the old days, the Burned Outs had something of a bad reputation in whitewater circles — we were sort of viewed as the Hell’s Angels of the kayaking world. Indeed, we worked hard at having fun, but our reputation was unwarranted. Those who cast stones really hadn’t bothered to get to know guys like Scuz, Slick, Yonk and Hank.
    Our critics didn’t know, for instance, that in spite of our loose-knit organization, club members are always watching out for each other — both on and off the river.
    For example, on that very first weekend, Hank loaned me $50 so I could get home to Warren, Ohio without using my credit card. I didn’t ask for it. He just gave it to me when he heard me wondering aloud where all my cash had gone. “Just pay me back the next time you see me,” he said.  I was amazed. I had just met this man! I might never see him again. He didn’t care.
    And since that first weekend, I’ve been with the Burned Outs en masse, attending members’ weddings, funerals of loved ones or lending an ear to members with a problem or a hand to someone with a special project.
    A little bit crazy, sure. But this rag-tag group of boaters are the best bunch of friends a person could possibly have. Who cares about money, status or power? Being there, in my view, is what friendship is all about. And the Burned Outs are there for their friends through good times and bad.
    It’ll be great to see them all.

Executive Editor Bill Sedivy’s column appears every Saturday.

Cooperation between
local police departments
simplifies crime-fighting
    Communities too often view one another as foes. They compete against each other for everything from new businesses to state and federal grants. The legal battle between Bridgeport and Clarksburg over annexing the FBI center property is one embarrassing example.
    To their credit, local police departments are not making the same mistake. Instead of competing with each other, they are cooperating in the fight on crime.
    Investigators with departments around Harrison County have been meeting once a month to review cases and exchange information. Thanks to that cooperation:
— In January, eight county residents were arrested in connection with several robberies and breakings and enterings. Also arrested were three suspects in the robbery of a Shinnston gas station;
— In February, police cracked the case of a Bridgeport convenience store robbery through the cooperation of police officers from Stonewood, Anmoore and Bridgeport.
    The inter-departmental cooperation not only solves more crimes, it also saves police footwork — and that saves departments time and money. Here’s how Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton explained it:
    “A lot of times you have the same people committing crimes across the county and all the different departments are trying to do follow-ups. What we’ll have is four or five officers following each other around interviewing the same people. By virtue of sharing this information about the different crimes, we get a broader picture of what’s going on.”
    The beauty of this new approach to crime-fighting is its simplicity. No extra funding is needed. No costly new equipment is required. And it is not necessary to depend on state or federal grants that will be discontinued in two or three years.
    All that is needed to make this new approach work is communication and cooperation. Those two things, although they can solve most problems human beings come up against, are too rarely used.

Tim Langer
Telegram editorial board member


Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999