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Clarksburg police officers
to announce union charter
Group to become first unionized
law enforcement agency in state

by James Fisher
    Clarksburg police say they became the first unionized law enforcement agency in the state in order to get better pay, updated equipment, more officers and to open lines of communication with the city.
    City Manager Percy Ashcraft, however, said that the city will not recognize the union as far as collective bargaining or pay issues. He said those issues are covered by the Police Civil Service Commission or are spelled out in the city’s employee handbook.
    Robert Matheny, who has been elected the head of Local 119 of the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO, was to announce at noon today that the department has been chartered.
This is the first department in West Virginia to join the AFL-CIO. Thirty-three of the department’s 36 officers have joined the union, Matheny said.
    The noon ceremony in Clarksburg City Council chambers was to feature IUPA International Secretary/Treasurer Rich Estes. Matheny, one of the union organizers, said the city’s police department has been losing resources and manpower at a time when criminal activity has begun to rise in Clarksburg.
The city has cut the police force by 25 percent in the last several years, while crime in the city has continued to increase, he said. Between 1997 and 1998, 911 calls to the city’s police department have increased more than 20 percent, while the felony rate has also risen in the city, Matheny said.
    Union officials also believe that Clarksburg residents are at risk on local highways because of reduced enforcement caused by a lack of manpower and proper equipment.
Union officials also expressed concern that low pay has resulted in more police officers leaving the force to join other, higher-paying forces in the state.
    “We have an important message to get across to the city government and by presenting a united front, we hope that message comes across loud and clear,” Matheny said. Despite unionizing, the department’s officers will maintain a relationship with the Fraternal Order of Police, a national organization that represents several police departments in the county.  But officers in Clarksburg believed the union would be able to better handle problems specific to them.
    “We have a unique FOP here in Harrison County because they represent many departments in the county, so they may not be able to handle some problems that are unique to each department,” Matheny said. “We felt that the problems of the Clarksburg Police Department are better handled by the officers of the Clarksburg Police Department.”
Clarksburg Police Chief Raymond Mazza, although not a member of the union, said he believes the officers’ efforts can be beneficial to both the officers and the citizens of Clarksburg.
    “Our first objective as officers is to improve the quality of life here in Clarksburg,” he said. “But if this will help them obtain up-to-date equipment and the officers needed to do the job, I am behind them completely. Anything that will help develop trust and a good working relationship between the officers and the administration is welcome.”
The union will be beneficial not only to the officers, Matheny said, but to the city administration, as well.
    “We can sit down and settle matters before they become major issues,” he said. “I think that attitude has already started to manifest itself.” Matheny said union officials and Ashcraft have already met to hammer out some issues relating to officers’ days off that could have escalated to bigger problems. Although Ashcraft said the city won’t negotiate pay issues with the union, he said he views the union as a positive step toward improved communication between the city and its employees.
    “Anytime employees want to gather to suggest things to improve their working environment, or even suggest policy, I think that’s healthy,” he said. “The question of their agenda will have to be decided by their members.”
The officers in the union are Matheny, president; Lt. John Fuscaldo, vice president; Cpl. John McDougal, secretary; Sgt. Ronald Alonso, treasurer; and three trustees, Cpl. Jessie Menendez, Sgt. Bill McGahan and Sgt. Mark Waggamon.
The International Union of Police Association represents approximately 80,000 active duty law enforcement officers in the United State, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada.  It is the only law enforcement union chartered by the AFL-CIO that exclusively represents law enforcement personnel.

State leaders hope to get Corridor H construction started again soon

by Troy Graham
    CHARLESTON — State Transportation Secretary Sam Bonasso anticipates the long-delayed construction of the final 100 miles of Corridor H will begin once studies on the highway’s impact on historical sites are completed.
Officials say those studies can be completed in eight months.
    A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the state must complete the historical impact studies along the entire route before continuing construction. The state had previously decided to conduct the studies as the road was built.
Although the ruling will hold up construction until at least late summer, state officials and lawmakers who support the road declared victory Wednesday, describing the historical studies as a temporary roadblock.
    “The court ruling is a major win for the people of West Virginia,” said House Majority Leader Joe Martin in a speech to the House of Delegates. “We’re going to go ahead and build Corridor H.”Delegate Bill Proudfoot, D-Randolph, also said he was pleased with the court ruling. “It’d be nice to look out there and see some work going on,” he said. “You can’t totally stop progress. You can slow it down a bit. The road is going to be built.”
    Bonasso was cautious, however, saying that more challenges from opponents could arise. Although he anticipates being able to start construction soon, “it doesn’t mean there won’t be more attempts to slow us down,” he said.
    Bonasso also said it was too early to say if construction on some segments of the highway will start before the historical impact studies are completed. Contracts had been awarded for construction of several parts of the road, including a 3.5-mile bypass around Elkins. “I have no answers on any of that stuff,” he said. “There’s just too much going on right now.”
Bonasso said he will make the determination on whether to move forward with construction on those segments in the coming weeks after meeting with Division of Highways officials.

Secretary of state joins battle between
Weston City Council, town’s residents

by Torie Knight
    WESTON — Secretary of State Ken Hechler believes Weston residents legally should be allowed to vote on an ordinance passed last year that raised municipal fees in the city about $90 a year.
City officials, however, say they believe many of the signatures on a referendum petition were forged and the state hasn’t done its job in verifying the signatures.
    Weston City Council approved a municipal fee ordinance on Feb. 20, 1998, that raised municipal fees from $30 for most residents to $120. On April 20, 1998, residents who objected to the raise submitted 1,026 petition signatures to the council. Weston City Council, however, rejected the petitions, in a 3-1 vote, and questioned the validity of some of the signatures.
“If the petition had been done correctly, then council would have looked at it more strongly,” said Weston City Councilman John Tucci.
    The residents appealed the city’s decision to the Secretary of state’s office. This week, Secretary of State Ken Hechler said the number of people who signed the petitions warranted putting the municipal fee on the ballot.
“If there is a reason why this is not the case, we would appreciate a summary of the facts involved,” Hechler wrote to Weston Mayor John Burkhart. “If the issue is to be brought for a vote, it could be presented on your upcoming general election ballot.” Hechler could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
    Of the 1,026 signatures on the petition, 822 were registered Weston voters, according to the state. Only 758 signatures, or 30 percent of the city’s 2,528 registered voters, are required to put an issue to vote, Hechler said in the letter.
Wednesday, council gave the letter to City Attorney Christy Smith for a response. Smith said Wednesday that the state will have to verify the signatures. “I read it as an inquiry letter,” Weston Councilman Charles Wilson said. “I think anyone like the Secretary of state wants to know both sides.”
    Revenues from municipal fees fund city, police, fire and street departments and make up a large chunk of the city’s budget. In 1998, the city collected $110,000 in municipal fees, according to City Treasurer Cyndi Donaldson.
Residents, however, want a say in the fees.  If they don’t get a vote, some have said they may pursue a lawsuit, much like the lawsuit filed by city business people who opposed the city’s new business and occupation tax.
Resident Wilma Clem said residents just feel the fee increase was too much for one time. “Increments would have been better,” Clem said.
    Donaldson said she has been instructed by council to bill the nearly 3,000 municipal fees for 1999 within the next few weeks. City officials depend on both the newly enacted business and occupation tax and the municipal fees for revenue.
Wilson said he believes the situation will be handled professionally, without a lawsuit. “I think we’ll try to get the matter resolved,” Wilson said.

Florists, card shops get
ready for Valentine’s Day
by Julie Cryser
    Local florists and card sellers have already started preparing for one of the largest money-making holidays of the year — and one of the biggest headaches. “People are already calling,” said Lloyd Parrish, owner of All Seasons Florist on Pike Street in Clarksburg. “It’s the most aggravating holiday, normally.”
Not that he minds. Valentine’s Day is one of the top three holidays for flower sales, with Mother’s Day and Christmas coming in just a bit ahead.
    The good thing about this year’s Valentine’s Day is that it falls on Sunday, making it much easier to handle for all involved, Lloyd said. Flowers will be delivered on Friday and Saturday, instead of just on one day. Delivering more than 300 orders in two days still will be a logistical juggling act. Most florists plan on sending out orders to schools and work places Friday, while having Saturday to send out the more personal deliveries.
    Janice Carpenter, the shop manager for Carda’s Florist, said her store will put four people on standby to help deliver the orders. “Each year it’s a new task of trying to figure out how it’s going to be,” Carpenter said.
Navonda Hayhurst, an employee with Bice’s Florist and Greenhouse in Enterprise, agrees. Bice’s has been getting calls for Valentine’s Day deliveries for the last week and has been able to split the delivery days. “If you don’t have it all in one day, it helps,” Hayhurst said.
    According to Dorothy Mills, manager of the House of Cards, Valentine’s Day is the largest holiday for card sales.
“Usually it’s pretty slow until right before, then they pour it on,” she said. Mills said most of the card buyers are men, and they often wait until the last moment to purchase cards, Teddy bears and gifts. And their card selections range from heartfelt to hilarious. “A lot of people don’t want to get mushy and then other people do,” Miller said.

City of Weston
struggles to keep wolf away from its door
by Torie Knight
    WESTON -- Weston City Council members agreed Wednesday to pay $6,000 to the city's pension reserve, $4,000 to a construction company for a long-time overdue paving bill and $5,000 in 911 fees that have been owed for two months.
Council, however, still owes $6,000 to the reserve fund for three months of no payment. And the city has made little headway in reducing a $50,000 debt.
    Weston City Council evaluated the city treasurer's department in a special meeting Wednesday. Concerns about the department arose during the Feb. 1 regular meeting. At that time, the city had $100,000 in bills, $38,000 in the safe instead of the bank account and the treasurer had submitted a letter of resignation in executive session.
    The money in the safe was for payroll, $7,000 in insurance costs and a few other bills, according to the city treasurer, who says now she will stay on with the city.In the past week the city collected $42,000 in business and occupation taxes. Most of that will go toward payroll, however.
    Wednesday morning, City Treasurer Cyndi Donaldson said things were going much better for the city. "Everything looks good," Donaldson said. "I'm very positive." Council also approved Wednesday part-time help for Donaldson and agreed to have  the computer system, which failed three times Tuesday, checked and fixed.
    Since that isn't enough to get the city out of debt, council again decided to pay bills as revenue becomes available. Councilman Charles Wilson, a lawyer, said the city is mandated by law to pay into the pension fund. Councilman John Oliver said the other top priority for the city is utilities."We need to keep our gas on and electric on," Oliver said.

Despite deficit, Upshur board of education decides to keep 2 schools open
by Torie Knight
    Two Upshur County schools will remain open in what one school administrator called a “bittersweet victory” that still leaves the school system searching for a way out of a $179,000 deficit. Upshur County Board of Education members decided this week to keep open two elementary schools in the county. The school board voted against closing Central Elementary School in Buckhannon on Monday night before an audience of nearly 200 parents and residents.
    After the vote, Upshur County Schools Superintendent Richard Hoover withdrew his recommendation to close Rock Cave Elementary School. The board was to meet about the proposed closing of that school on Tuesday.
Assistant Superintendent Allen Sturm said that Hoover, who plans to retire in four months, has the option to make another recommendation to the board, but has already “fulfilled his obligation to come up with a plan to reduce the budget deficit.”
    The county school system has a $179,000 deficit and is searching for a way out. The superintendent proposed closing the two schools to save the money. “We have not chartered another course of action as of now,” Sturm said. Rock Cave Elementary School Principal Daniel Silbaugh said the lingering deficit is why the board’s decision is bittersweet. He fears the school could be fighting closure again next year if a solution isn’t found.
    Silbaugh said the board didn’t rely on just the budget when it voted to keep his school and Central Elementary open. He said they listened to the students. Keeping the schools open is good for the parents, teachers and students who like the advantages of small schools, he said. But the decision doesn’t address whether the board will face the same situation next year or what board members will do this year, Silbaugh said.
    “It’s a big question as to what will happen next year with our schools,” Silbaugh said. Upshur County used to operate its school system with an educational levy. Voters, however, have voted down the last four levy attempts. The November 1998 levy failed by slightly more than 30 votes.
    An educational foundation has been established in the county. Silbaugh said if residents donate to the foundation, it could be used for improvements to schools. Another attempt to pass an excess levy could be a solution, but the school board would have to pay for any special election.
    Dave McCauley, an attorney and father of a Central Elementary School student, is asking parents and residents to donate to the educational fund to help out the school’s budget crisis.  McCauley gave $123 to the fund — $1 for each student at Central Elementary School. He is encouraging others to do the same. “Unless we find an avenue to find money, we are going to be in the same dire straits,” Silbaugh said.

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