Anmoore mayor, other officials ‘past due’
Delinquent payments, bad debts plague town water department; Public Service Commission to probe
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER

    Anmoore’s mayor and his wife, the town recorder, owe more than $2,000 in past-due water payments to the water board of the town they serve, February water records and payment plan statements show.
In addition, Councilwoman Anna Harvey — who serves on the Harrison County town’s water board with the mayor and other town council members — is 90 days past due on her payments.
    The city officials aren’t the only Anmoore residents behind in their bills. Records show that about 33 percent of the town’s 543 water and sewer customers are at least 30 days delinquent. The town’s water department, with total revenues of $123,184, recorded a deficit of $9,536 for fiscal year 1998 and has been operating with a deficit for at least the past three years.
    And a city employee says that the town’s mayor has sometimes prohibited her from sending shut-off notices to people whose water should be shut off.
“    When you’re hired to do a job, you expect to be able to do the job,” said Kim Hinerman, Anmoore’s water clerk. “But ultimately, I answer to the mayor and council.”
A review of Anmoore water records obtained by the Exponent and Telegram showed:
     -Anmoore Mayor B.L. “Pete” Grogg was 90 days late on an account in his name and owed $99.75 as of Feb. 9.
    -Grogg’s wife and the town recorder, Connie Grogg, filed a payment plan in her name with the town in September 1998 for overdue water bills totaling $2,366.15. Someone made a payment of $325 on Connie Grogg’s bill Wednesday, dropping the balance to $2,041.15.
    No payments had been made on Connie Grogg’s plan since September 1998. The payment made Wednesday came one week after the Exponent and Telegram filed a freedom of information request to obtain the town’s water records and one day before the records were given to the newspapers.
Mayor Grogg on Saturday said he had no comment about his water bills or his wife’s payment plan.
   Councilwoman Harvey’s past due water account in her name totaled $93.97, according to the February records. Harvey could not be reached for comment Saturday.
    The records also show that several relatives of Anmoore town officials and one former town council member haven’t paid water bills for at least 90 days. In addition to those delinquent accounts, the town has written off 98 accounts totalling $12,621.32 in bad water bill debt since 1994, according to records obtained by the newspapers in the last month.
The state Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, on Friday ordered a general investigation of the operation and management of the Anmoore water and sewer departments, as requested by a local government watchdog group. A report of the commission’s findings is due before July 9.
People with connections to town officials, and who have bills in their names that were at least 90 days late, include:
    -Patty Fragmin, Councilwoman Anna Harvey’s mother. Records showed her account had a balance due of $142.75, and was 90 days late.
Fragmin could not be reached for comment.
    -A payment plan has been established for a delinquent account in the name of Ruby Hashman, Connie Grogg’s mother. As of Jan. 5, the account balance showed the account was in arrears for $1,347.52. On the Feb. 9 billing records, an account in Hashman’s name was 90 days late for $82.56.
Hashman died in January, but her account was still active as of Feb. 9.
    -An account in the name of Glen Grogg, the mayor’s brother and an Anmoore town employee, is 90 days past due for a total of $539.76.
Glenn Grogg said his account would be paid in full when he receives his federal income tax refund check.
“I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what I owe,” he said, when contacted Saturday. “I always pay my water bills at least once per year.”
    -A payment plan statement dated November 1998 in the name of Charles Riley, a former Anmoore Town Council member, showed a past-due balance of $819.40. A Feb. 9 billing statement in Riley’s name showed he was 90 days past due for $1,247.42. Riley was not home Saturday and could not be reached for comment.
    According to Hinerman, Anmoore’s water clerk, if a water bill is not paid, the city is supposed to shut the water off about a month after sending out a delinquent notice. One day before the service is scheduled to be terminated, a city worker hand-delivers a shut-off notice to the resident or attaches it to the door.
But that’s not happening in Anmoore, she said.
    Hinerman said that the mayor has sometimes prohibited her from sending shut-off notices to certain people or tagging doors with notices.
    Although the city’s February records showed 177 delinquent accounts out of 543 total accounts, only four shut-off notices have been delivered in the last three months. One person paid in full and three others moved away from the area, Hinerman said.
    Bad-debt account records are kept on file in Anmoore in case the person ever tries to get service again, she said. The debts are also sent to a credit bureau in an attempt to receive payment.
    Anmoore council decided at a special meeting Feb. 11 that anyone with a payment plan would be sent a letter outlining shut-off procedures.
    The letters stated that payment plans had to be paid in full within 30 days. Customers’ current accounts also must be paid, or service will be disconnected.
    The city is supposed to disconnect water to people who are unwilling to set up a payment plan and are behind on payments.



MPLCorp. president named small business person of year
Linda Wellings a well-known entrepreneur
by Torie Knight
STAFFWRITER
    The poster of a rock climber on the door says the words that Linda Wellings lives by. “Determination makes the impossible possible.”
    Wellings, a woman who spent years at home raising her two daughters, never thought twice about re-entering the workforce. But six years ago, this West Virginia coal miner’s daughter completed her bachelor’s degree in business at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
    At the age of 51, she is an internationally known entrepreneur and president of MPL Corp. in Buckhannon and Fairmont. The computer information systems design company makes specialized software for the oil, gas, aviation and coal industries and state, federal and local governments. For her efforts, the West Virginia Small Business Administration named her as the small business person of the year.
    Dave Walker, director of business support and affiliate services at the West Virginia High Tech Consortium, was one of the individuals that nominated Wellings for the SBA award. He calls her “a very special entrepreneur.”
“I look for great things out of MPL for a lot of reasons but for the most important reason because of the leadership of Linda,” Walker said. “Her business over the past year and a half has made some very significant advances.”
    Wellings has gone from taking her first basic computer course at age 33 to running a company chosen to represent the United States in Northern Ireland last summer. Wellings was the only woman in a group of business people to travel on a trade mission with U.S. Trade Secretary William Dailey to Northern Ireland.
    Already, MPL Corp., founded in 1985, had completed a five-year plan for a Northern Ireland company and was looking for investors to help expand. She brought home a Rolodex of business contacts and names of potential business partners.
One thing that gives her an advantage, Walker believes, is that Wellings gives more than she receives.
    “She not only has worked real hard to build an excellent business, but while she was building her business she worked to help other people,” Walker said.
    Wellings works tirelessly to help women who take time off to raise a family get back into the workforce.
For that reason, she again traveled to Northern Ireland last year, invited by Hillary Rodham Clinton, to participate in the conference “Vital Voices: Women in Democracy.”
    Women in Northern Ireland don’t have the self-confidence to feel at home in an office usually dominated by males, nor do they want to speak in public, she said. Wellings, however, has three brothers and knows how to get her voice heard in a room full of men. She had no trouble going back into the workforce, but she didn’t have an easy trail to blaze.
“We had some tough learning experiences,” Wellings said of the company’s beginning days.
I    n 1985, the company lost everything in a fire at Tennerton Plaza. Later that year, a flood damaged the company’s records.
“We had some real good character building experiences,” Wellings said.
    As a boss, she strives to not only hire women, but also to keep West Virginia youth in the state. She works with local colleges to find qualified employees. Eleven of her 14 current employees are West Virginia college graduates.
    She also works to promote her state. Wellings moved out of West Virginia after she married. She lived in Michigan and Washington, D.C., for nine years before her husband took a job back in West Virginia in 1977.
“I never thought we would come back to West Virginia,” Wellings said. “He said we would be here a couple of years. Now, we will be here forever.”


Harrison Co. may get 3rd circuit judge
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER
    CHARLESTON — Local lawmakers declared victory on the final night of the Legislature when Harrison County was awarded a third circuit court judge, but some lawmakers say divorcing parents and their children will lose out after the death of two bills that would have reformed divorce courts and divorce and child custody laws.
Harrison County was awarded its additional judge after the House accepted an amended version of a bill that provides additional judges to three judicial circuits.
    The House version of the bill added judges to two judicial circuits, one in the Eastern Panhandle and one in the southern part of the state. But Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, and Sen. William Sharpe, D-Lewis, amended the bill to add a judge in Harrison County when the legislation came to the Senate floor.
    Minard worried that the House would not accept the amendment and the bill would have to be worked out in a conference committee with members of both chambers.
    Instead, House Majority Leader Joe Martin, D-Randolph, said the amendment “seems to enhance the bill,” and the House passed the amended bill.
The legislation will become law if the governor signs it.
    “I don’t know what to think. I’m just tickled to death,” Minard said when he learned of the House’s action. “I thought for sure it would go into conference, and they’d use it for leverage, and we’d run out of time.”
“I got to give Sen. Minard an awful lot of credit there,” said Delegate Larry Linch, D-Harrison, who brokered the deal to get the House to concur with the amended version of the bill.
Two bills that would have reformed the process of getting a divorce died, however.
    Shortly after 8 p.m., Delegate Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, who chaired the subcommittee that drafted the bills, placed the blame for the bill’s demise squarely on the shoulders of Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo.
Chafin held the bills up in a Senate Finance subcommittee, Johnson said. Chafin, D-Mingo, went through a messy and public divorce several years ago, losing custody of his daughter. Chafin’s ex-wife then moved to the Boston area with their daughter
    Johnson called Chafin “devious” and “not a faithful servant,” saying he tried to insert language into the bills that would harm his ex-wife. Chafin tried to put caps on alimony payments and force parents with custody to get a court order to relocate, Johnson said.
    “He didn’t want to kill it, he wanted the things in it he wanted,” he said. “He was thinking we would accept anything at the last hour.”
Johnson even asked Mingo voters to oust Chafin.
    “I would like to say to the people of Mingo County, would you please send us a person with some measure of dignity,” said Johnson. “Would you please send us someone of character.”
    Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, jumped to Chafin’s defense, saying it is an “absolute falsehood” that Chafin held up the bill.
    “That man did not hold up that bill in finance, not one single day. Period. Paragraph,” he said.
Chafin said Johnson’s attack may have been more personal than professional. Johnson’s brother, Charles, who runs a clinic in McDowell County, once applied for a contract at state-run Welch Emergency Hospital, which is in Chafin’s district.
    When he didn’t get the contract, Johnson’s brother filed a complaint against Chafin with the state Bar Association.
The complaint was dismissed, Chafin said. The senator said he had no idea why Johnson’s brother filed the complaint, but he said that situation may have motivated Delegate Johnson’s comments.. “I assume he’s carrying the water for his brother,” he said. Johnson said Chafin’s statements were “hogwash.”
    “It’s not like we don’t all know what goes on down here,” he said. “The Senate can say whatever they want about me.”
The two bills could be revived in next week’s extended session, which is traditionally used to hash out the state budget. Gov. Cecil Underwood said earlier in the evening that he would consider asking the Legislature to take up the bills in the extended session, but he hoped a compromise could be reached in the regular session.
Also in the Legislature:
-The Senate passed a bill to allow a referendum vote to decide whether The Greenbrier Resort should have casino gambling.
    The House passed the bill earlier this week with several amendments, including one that bars the resort from offering complimentary rooms to attract gamblers. There was some fear that the Senate would not agree to the amendments, but the Senate agreed Saturday morning in one of its first actions of the day.
The bill now goes to the governor.

-Pay raises for the State Police, state department leaders and elected officials died in a conference subcommittee when House and Senate members couldn’t’ agree on the amounts of the raises, said Delegate Barbara Warner, D-Harrison and the conference committee chair.

-The governor’s bill to tax smokeless tobacco died after it was never seriously considered by the Senate.  Underwood said he will either ask lawmakers to consider the tobacco tax during a special session that will be called this year to reform the state’s tax structure, or he will simply introduce it again in the 2000 Legislature.

-A bill introduced by Delegate Larry Linch, D-Harrison, to regulate body piercing died after the Senate did not take up the legislation. The bill passed the House earlier in the session. The bill was sent over to the Senate too late for that body to consider it, Linch said.
The delegate said he has assurances that the bill will be passed out of the House earlier next year to ensure its passage.
“I’ve been working on this for four years,” he said. “We got it further along than any other year.”

-A bill that would have taken away the Health Care Cost Review Authority’s power to set hospital rates died. United Hospital Center President Bruce Carter was a strong advocate of the bill, noting that only one other state still regulates hospital rates.
“The Senate wasn’t able to get it on its schedule,” said West Virginia Hospital Association President Steven Summer of the bill.



Pruntytown finds itself at
the crossroads — literally
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER
    PRUNTYTOWN — Vickie Bolyard depends on two things to bring customers into her small antique/a-little-bit-of-everything shop in Pruntytown.
    She believes word-of-mouth can bring in lots of business, along with her location at the intersection of U.S. Routes 250 and 50.
    The intersection, along which much of Pruntytown lies, gives the store visibility. And the heavy traffic along the roads often draws passers-by into the Pruntytown Peddler. This intersection brings life to Pruntytown, an unincorporated town known regionally more for its correctional facility and its national cemetery than its antique shop or other small businesses.
    That’s why in the summer, Bolyard may pull some of the items in her store out to the parking lot to attract even more attention. People can see her wares as they drive by on the way to Grafton, to the Pruntytown Correctional Center or to Bridgeport.
    Many hours she sits alone in the store, waiting for another customer to wander in and sort through the peddler’s treasures. Although she gets to set her own hours, she is never sure just how much money will flow in each day and what kind of profits she’ll realize. But she likes it.
    “What I do I really enjoy,” Bolyard said. “And that is the main thing — I do what I like.”
She waits for people like Linda Lou Lynch of Grafton to come strolling in. Lynch loves antiques. She wanted to buy so much that she finally said, “I’ll close my eyes now, just ring it up.”
    Bolyard and her husband, Howard, opened the Pruntytown Peddler three years ago. The two had wanted to become entrepreneurs for years. When the small, white building at the main intersection in Pruntytown opened, they jumped at the chance. They buy whole estates and sell the items one by one at the store. Eventually, Bolyard said, the goal is to just sell antiques.
    For now, the small business sells a little bit of everything, from carnival glass and cast iron skillets to California Raisins and a 45 rpm “Macho Man” record by The Village People. “We really haven’t put a finger on exactly what to call it,” Bolyard said. Bolyard said that the intersection of two U.S. highways is vital to the survival of Pruntytown.
    “If they would build an interstate and bypass this town, it will become a ghost town,” Bolyard said.
The small, unincorporated town is centered around the intersection. A gas station, a restaurant, two schools and the Pruntytown Correctional Center are all within sight.
    The intersection is important to Stage Coach Restaurant owners Robert Shumaker and his nephew, Wayne Shumaker, as well.
    Even though the industrial school that first allowed the family to open a restaurant has changed, its ability to make the restaurant profitable hasn’t.
    Many people going to the now Pruntytown Correctional Facility often get to-go orders for inmates and some families stop to eat in the town’s only restaurant as well.
    Travelers to the national cemetery in Pruntytown, who pass by the intersection, often stop in, as well.
The correctional center and the schools are the main employers in the community. The Peddler and the Stage Coach can’t compare to those numbers.
    About 115 people are employed at the correctional center, said Program Manager Jim Ielapi. The schools — Pruntytown Elementary School and Taylor County Middle School — employ about 93.
    Although the Bolyards can’t compare to that payroll list, they won’t complain either. The largest employers in Pruntytown support the smaller businesses.
    When not at the shop, Howard Bolyard has a full-time job at the middle school — which is just across the intersection of U.S. Routes 50 and 250 and within sight of his store.



‘We’re just West Virginia Irish’
Ireland, W.Va., celebrates St. Patrick’s Day the best way it knows how
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER
    IRELAND — Sporting a yellow wig that looked like a pompom on a bad hair day, Sandy King couldn’t help but smile Saturday.
    King talked about this tiny unincorporated town’s Irish Festival with a twinkle in her eye.
The event brings the community together each year, getting the young and old alike to take pride in who they are and where they’re from — even if they aren’t Irish, King said.
    “We’re not authentic Irish,” said King, president of the Shamrock Community Educational Outreach Service Club, which sponsors the event. “We don’t know how to be. We’re just West Virginia Irish.”
    The 18th annual event, highlighted Saturday afternoon with a parade along U.S. Route 19, draws former residents and hundreds from area towns each year to celebrate Irish heritage and the coming of spring.
Dozens of children from the Lewis County area donned duck suits Saturday to fit this year’s “duck” theme.
    Resident Linda Claypoole drove a forest green John Deere tractor pulling a kiddie pool full of ducksuit-clad children.
Claypoole, speaking seriously despite the fact that she was wearing a rainbow-colored wig, is proud of the event.
“It’s getting bigger and better every year. It’s just great for the community.”
    William Richards toted a dark green poster board around his neck. The poster had a detailed written history of his family in Ireland. “I’ve met a lot of people I’m related to that I’ve never seen or heard tell of,” said the Martinsburg native. And King was not kidding when she said the event is “West Virginia Irish.”
    The king and queen are traditionally aged 60 years or older to honor the memory of Andrew “Old Ireland” Wilson, an early Irish settler who lived to be 114.
    A man dressed up as “Old Ireland” Saturday — complete with a sagging plastic mask and grey beard — to greet onlookers with waves, candy and gumball-sized onions. “We do everything different. When you’re this small, you have to,” King said. Different, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, according to residents.
    The event is popular enough to have endured the toughest of weather. Not even a blizzard in 1993 could bury the parade. More than 20 inches of snow blanketed the town. Still, residents marched.
    “When we went through it, everybody thought we were crazy,” said Lynn Crawford-King, a lifetime resident of Ireland. “We went through it anyway.” Of course, we’re talking about “West Virginia Irish” people here.
    “We have a motto: Rain or shine, snow or fine, we’ll all be Irish for the time,” King said.
King already looks forward to next year. “It’s something that I’ll do for years to come — every year ’til I’m gone.”


21 laid off at Randolph Co. schools
by Gail Marsh
STAFF WRITER
    At the Randolph County Board of Education, March 5 was referred to as “Black Friday,” the day layoff letters went out to 21 school staff members.
    “We lost enrollment again this year, so we had to cut staff in order to stay within the funding formula. It’s an unpleasant situation,” said Glenn Karlen, superintendent of Randolph County schools.
    Karlen said the letters are the last step in a long process to determine where the 13 teachers and eight service personnel need to be cut. At least three other professionals received letters because the school system won’t get the grant money needed to pay them, he said.
    “We didn’t have to RIF (reduce in force) last year because we were just about level with the amount of staffing that the state would provide for. This year was a different story,” he said.
    Teachers with more seniority and certification were able to “bump” those teachers below them, with the final cuts coming down to the staff members who were the most recently hired or those with less certification, Karlen said.
    “Because of the way it is set up, the RIF process affects a lot of people. And that’s really not the end of it, because many of those people could end up being rehired if others choose to retire or leave the area,” he said.
Sondra “Jeanie” Pingley, a sixth-grade English/Language Arts teacher at Elkins Middle School, got her letter on Saturday. A teacher with 16 years in the system will get her position.
    A non-traditional student who returned to school after working for a number of years, Pingley graduated from Davis & Elkins College in 1995. This is her first full year in the Randolph
    County school system after coming in as a substitute teacher in the 1995-96 school year. She is certified to teach any core subject in kindergarten through eighth grades.
    “It’s really tough, but you just can’t blame anyone because enrollment is down and that means money is down. My mother served on the board of education in Tucker County for 14 years, so I understand the position the local board is in,” she said.
Pingley said it will be hard to leave her students. She loves teaching English, but she plans to apply for any position for which she’s qualified when job postings appear at the board office in late June or July.
    “It’s been a dream of mine to teach since 1990, so I’m not going to give up. I plan to bide my time and hopefully a posting will come up that will be suitable for me,” she said.
    Most of the staff cuts this year happened at the middle and high school levels, the areas with the biggest drops in enrollment. Karlen said the layoffs were spread out among the schools, but some program cuts were unavoidable.
    A Spanish program that was added this school year at Tygarts Valley High School had to be cut because the school system laid off the program’s teacher, Frank Figueroa. This leaves nearly 100 seventh- through 12th-grade students with no option of continuing Spanish at their school.
    According to Wilbert Smith, Tygarts Valley principal, the system may have lost enough students to cut a staff member, but his school only lost 11 students.
    “We have 511 students this year, down just 11 from last year. It’s difficult to cut staff when you haven’t lost that many students,” Smith said. The principal said he hates to lose not only the program but the teacher.
    “Frank Figueroa is a young, enthusiastic teacher who brings a freshness to our staff, and that can cause all of us to do better. Unfortunately, when you have RIFs, the younger ones are the first to go,” Smith said.
    Figueroa is teaching a semester block of Spanish exploratory and Spanish I at Tygarts Valley, after spending the first semester teaching at Harman Elementary/High School in Harman. Students who want to take Spanish II rather than start over with the school’s only other program, French, will have to be bussed to Elkins High School next year.
    “Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States, so I think it’s important to be able to offer it here. Those students who hope to get a second year of it right now will have to waste a lot of time being bussed back and forth to Elkins High,” he said. This is Figueroa’s second year in the school system, and he hopes to be able to be rehired before the fall.
    “The best scenario is that the board would see the need for the Spanish program and reinstate it at Tygarts Valley. If not, I plan to apply for anything that’s out there,” he said.
    Special education was another area that was hit with a number of layoffs. According to Cynthia Kolsun, administrative assistant/director of administration, the board was able to do away with a few positions because the number of special education students is down.
    Kolsun said one of two driver’s education positions at Elkins High School was cut, along with an applied mathematics program at the school’s vocational center. Cuts to service personnel affected aides, a half-time cook and two half-time bus drivers, she said.
    “Having to RIF puts us in a terrible position, but we’re hopeful that most of these people can be rehired before the next school year. Even so, the RIF process still affects the way people feel about the whole system,” she said.


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