Officials closely scrutinize attorney candidates
by Paul Leakan
Staff writer
 

    Whoever fills the Clarksburg city attorney position will need a clean record, good communication skills and the ability to impress five city officials.
    Clarksburg city officials have started interviewing applicants for the vacant city attorney post. Four individual lawyers and five law firms have applied for the position.
    An administrative committee has been taking part in the interviews and will make a recommendation to City Manager Percy Ashcraft, who has the authority to appoint the city attorney. The committee includes Jimmy Marino, personnel director; Frank Ferrari, finance director; Raymond Mazza, police chief and Annette Wright, city clerk.
    The group will take extra precautions in looking into applicants' references and past records, Ashcraft said.
The last city attorney, John Farmer, admitted to a state board that oversees lawyers that he violated three state rules of conduct for attorneys. Farmer admitted that he failed to act with reasonable promptness in representing his client, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of a case and engaged in professional misconduct. Farmer resigned from the post in early February for personal reasons.
    The allegations against Farmer, which occurred mostly before he became city attorney, served as a wake-up call to some city council members who questioned the city's interviewing practices.
    Ashcraft said the city had no way of knowing about Farmer's past complaints at the time because they were between Farmer and his clients and were not public.
    Even so, the city will do what it can to look closely at applicants' references and past job performance, Ashcraft said.
Aside from that, the city wants applicants to have good communications skills.
    "The attorney deals so much with the public and other aspects of the government," Ashcraft said. "It's important that they get their thoughts across verbally and in writing."
    The city also wants applicants who have municipal experience, such as executing contracts, working with employees and representing the city in hearings in magistrate and municipal court.
    The city advertised the position in the Clarksburg Exponent and Telegram, the Dominion Post, the Charleston Gazette and Nation's Cities Weekly, which is published nationally. The city also sent applications via fax to lawyers in the Clarksburg area.
    The city ran the advertisement for the job ran for about four weeks, according to Marino. The advertised yearly salary for the position ranged from $40,000 to $50,000. Farmer was making $50,200 a year.
    The city still hasn't decided whether or not it will choose to fill the position with a firm or an individual lawyer who would work in-house. And there is no set deadline for filling the position.
    Walter Williams, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson, will remain as interim city attorney until about mid-May. The city may or may not choose to have a new city attorney at the time.
    "I'm not married to that date because I want to make sure that the process is well-concluded and that we have the best person or firm for the position," Ashcraft said.



State colleges, universities function as businesses
by Julie R. Cryser
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

Colleges and universities are businesses.
    And doing business in North Central West Virginia is made easier by its people, a strong fiber optics system and natural attractiveness that draws students from outside the state to local campuses, according to administrators at area colleges.
Just ask Stephen Markwood, president of Alderson-Broaddus College. "The people who work on our staff are hard working and competent," he said.
    Mort Gamble, executive director for institutional advancement at Fairmont State College, agrees. "Our students are not only an asset to the college but an asset to society," said Gamble.
    Fairmont State College has 20,000 living alumni working in varied careers throughout the United States and beyond its borders, Gamble said. "These individuals are clearly our best ambassadors," he said.
David Hardesty, president of West Virginia University, said West Virginia's people make the state competitive.
Doing business in West Virginia is made easier by the hard working and honest people who live and work in the state, he said.
    "When people move here, people are really shocked in the increase in productivity that they see," Hardesty said.
Bruce Flack, interim president at Glenville State College, said not only are people hard working and interested in helping others, but the people of the state know the value of having an education, although they sometimes either can't afford to go on to college or just can't make the cut.
    That's particularly important for colleges in West Virginia as they strive to increase enrollment in a  state that has one of the lowest college going rates in the nation and a declining number of people in the 18-year-old bracket.
"The citizenry sees the need for education beyond the high school level," he said.
    The state also has an advanced fiber optic system that makes technology access easier, administrators said. Bell Atlantic in particular has worked hard to build one of the strongest fiber optic systems in the nation, allowing West Virginia to rank among the top states in fiber optic technology, Markwood said.
    Fiber optic cables are advanced wiring systems that can move voice, pictures and data quickly to televisions, computers or telephones.
    Also ranking high among assets is the state's natural beauty and location, Hardesty said. The state is within 500 miles of half the population of the United States. Residents have access to international airports in Pennsylvania and Ohio, he pointed out.
    G. Tom Mann, president of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, said the beauty of the region is a natural attraction to the state's college campuses. Elkins caters to students who enjoy the outdoors.
    The college, just a 40- to 45-minute drive from one of the state's largest ski and recreational areas, takes students hiking, biking and skiing.
    Davis & Elkins College also has a unique program for students interested in the outdoors who may not be able to afford their own equipment. The school loans out outdoor equipment to students, from bikes  to backpacks to tents.
    Orientation at the beginning of each year includes several days in the woods for what Mann called "woods orientation."
"That's a very popular service at the college," he said.



Raises for county workers uncertain until summer
by Troy Graham
Staff writer

    The Harrison County Commission approved a $11.39 million budget for the fiscal year 1999-2000 Thursday, but it could be July or August before county employees find out if they get a raise.
    The budget does not include the fund balance, or surplus, left over from the previous year. The budget also does not include raises for county employees. As the commissioners did last year, they will wait until the fund balance is calculated in July or August and dole out raises from that amount.
    It would cost an estimated $400,000 to give all county employees a 5 percent raise. Salaries constitute 70 percent of the county's budget, said county Administrator Jim Harris.
    Officials estimated last year's fund balance to be $750,000, but came in at $2.2 million. The commission estimated this year's fund balance to be $1 million. With the fund balance added in, last year's budget came to $11.95 million.
    Most county agencies saw modest increases or decreases in their budgets with a few exceptions. The commission increased its general budget by more than $100,000, due in large part to increases in insurance costs and Y2K concerns.
    The county also saved more than $60,000 when the the assessor's office set up a new computer system. The system is linked to a statewide computer network through the Internet. The assessor's office previously had to pay to receive the network.
    The county's budget is due at the state Tax Department by Monday.



Rural electric utility to cut rates 6 percent
by Troy Graham
Staff writer

    The Harrison Rural Electrification Association, which has been criticized in the past by its customers for high costs and poor service, will give subscribers a 6 percent reduction in its rates.
    For the average customer, who pays $60 a month, the reduction translates into a savings of $3.60 a month, said association General Manager Mike Cross. Over five years, the 5,500 association customers will save $1.5 million, he said.
    The association negotiated the rate reduction last year with Allegheny Power, which sells the group its wholesale electricity, Cross said. The contract the association negotiated with Allegheny is for five years, he said.
    Officials signed the contract Dec. 23, he said. The association just recently received permission to implement the rate reduction from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Cross said.
    The rate reduction will go into effect immediately, and will be retroactive to Dec. 10, 1998. Customers will be credited on their accounts for the retroactive savings.
    The rate reduction was largely possible because of the deregulation of the sale of wholesale electricity, Cross said.
The association's prices are still higher than other major power companies, such as Allegheny Power, he said. However, that is due to the rural customers it serves. "All of our customers are in rural, hard-to-reach areas," he said.
    While Allegheny Power has 30 customers per mile, the association has six customers per mile, he said.
Cross said the rate reduction is not related to past customer complaints.
    Several years ago customers filed complaints against the association with state and federal authorities. No action was taken against the association.
    The association serves customers in Harrison, Doddridge, Barbour, Upshur, Lewis, Tyler and Taylor counties.



Introduction classes for sophomores will continue in Harrison County
by Gail Marsh
STAFF WRITER

    A class to help sophomores learn more about career choices will continue to be taught as a required course in high schools in Harrison County.
    Beginning this school year, all sophomores were required to take the "Introduction to the Majors' class for one semester. The course is supposed to help sophomores decide what classes to take during their remaining high school years. The Legislature approved the requirement as a way to better prepare students for college or the world of work.
    Harrison County officials tested the program at Lincoln High School last year. The class exposed students to six career clusters (agriculture, business, engineering, fine arts, health and human services) and to the best classes to take to prepare students for further study in certain career fields.
    "Most of our principals agree that the stand-alone class is the best way to give teachers and students the time they need to fulfill the career exploration requirements of Senate Bill 300," said Susan Collins, administrative assistant for secondary education.
    Some students were concerned that they would be unable to take other advanced classes because of the Introduction to the Majors requirement, so the school board has agreed to let students "test out" of the class, Collins said.
    "As always, our school system will be providing testing out opportunities for a number of classes. Students who feel they don't want or don't need to spend a semester taking the Introduction to the Majors class have the option to test out," she said.
To be eligible to take a mastery test instead of sitting through the course, a student must have a 3.0 grade point average and score at or above the 85th percentile in total basic skills on standard achievement tests.
    To register for the test, students must fill out an application and return it to their school principals by March 31. Testing will take place on April 14 or April 15, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at United Technical Center.



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