Farmer to lead casino fight
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    John Farmer, who left his post as Clarksburg city attorney last month in a cloud of controversy, is now leading a media and fund-raising campaign to fight legalized gambling at the Greenbrier Hotel.
    Farmer left his job as city attorney in early February, while he was under investigation by the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board.
    Farmer admitted to violating three rules of conduct for  attorneys and the state Supreme Court annulled his license to practice law on March 17.
    Farmer started working for Queen, Hunter, Park and Associates in the first week of March. The firm handles lobbying and media relations for a variety of groups. “I’d like to stay with this kind of work,” Farmer said. “You got to go on.”
    Farmer is working full-time on the Greenbrier issue, said Mike Queen, a senior partner at the firm. “He can’t do any legal work, but the legal eye helps us tremendously,” Queen said.
    The Legislature passed a bill this year that will allow Greenbrier County voters to decide if casino gambling should be allowed at the venerable White Sulpur Springs resort.
    Conservative family and church groups are trying to convince voters to defeat the referendum. They fear the endemic dangers of gambling and doubt the economic benefits of gambling lauded by hotel officials and Charleston lobbyists.
        The referendum vote promises to be a contentious issue that will attract statewide media coverage. If the voters approve the referendum, the casino will be the first in the state.
    Many of the groups, such as the Council of Churches, are the same ones Queen has worked with in his fight to regulate or ban nude dancing. Most of Farmer’s work in the beginning will involve fund raising, he said. “The Greenbrier pretty much has unlimited funds to work on the issue," he said.
    Farmer also wants to keep the referendum vote from being held in a special election. He believes more opposition votes will be cast in a primary or general election.
    Farmer said he wanted to do this kind of work because it enables him to work closely with people on discussing complicated issues. “The more I got into it the more feelings I have toward it," he said.
    Farmer said he hasn’t investigated the possibility of practicing law again, perhaps in another state.



2 Harrison men plead guilty in farm loan case

    A credit manager for a federal farm relief agency accused of falsifying loan applications and borrower account records for at least five people and a Lost Creek man accused of getting one of the loans are awaiting sentencing dates after entering guilty pleas in federal court earlier this month.
    Paul Allan Weese, 46, of Lost Creek, the Agriculture Credit Manager for the federal Farm Service Agency, was named in a nine-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Martinsburg in January.
    Weese pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment for making a series of loans to people not eligible for them. Weese allegedly agreed to submit false statements on the applications filed between 1995 and 1997. Weese allegedly approved loan applications totaling about $865,000 to five people over a two year period.
    If convicted, Weese faces five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He is free on bond pending a sentencing date, which has not been set.
    Bradley A. Rose, 46, of Lost Creek, was named in one count of the indictment returned in January. Rose allegedly applied for, and received, a farm operating loan of $100,000 through the Harrison County Bank. Rose allegedly said the loan was to purchase cows and generate farm income, but instead used the money to refinance his home.
    He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Rose is free on bond pending his sentencing.



Low salaries still a problem, state teachers say;
More money needed to retain well-educated
by Gail Marsh
STAFF WRITER

    This year the Legislature helped teachers by granting them a pay raise and greater representation, giving them more protection while outside the classroom and setting aside funds to pay for national certification testing.
    Teachers received a $756 pay raise again this year, an amount that fails to keep state teacher salaries competitive, according to Norma Taylor, librarian at South Harrison High School and local president of the West Virginia Education Association.
    “We appreciate what they gave us, but we continue to decline in state rankings in teacher pay. It’s pretty sad when students are able to leave school for technical careers and make as much money starting out as teachers who have worked for 30 years,” Taylor said.
    Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers — AFL-CIO, said low salaries may cause problems in the future with teacher recruitment.
    “A national teacher shortage is causing other states to offer bonuses and other incentives to lure teachers from our state. They like our teachers because we have a good work ethic, and it may be hard to retain good teachers with our lower pay scale,” Hale said.
    Along with the pay raise, teachers received the right to have union officials participate in discussions about the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Though school employee insurance premiums were not increased this year, deductibles and co-payments will go up July 1.
    The Legislature also voted to give teachers $1,000 each toward the cost of taking the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards test, and another $1,000 to each teacher who passes the test. The bill provides a $1,000 per year bonus for each year a teacher holds the 10-year certification.



Clarksburg Water Board to take guess work out of billing
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    The Clarksburg Water Board is taking the guess work out of its customers’ bills by eliminating the unpopular practice of estimating water bills.
    Starting April 13, the water board will read all 9,000 water meters in its service area every month. The utility previously estimated water bills every other month. Bills were adjusted if the estimates were higher or lower than they should be when the meters were read the  next month.
    Estimating bills, a practice used by most utilities, is highly disliked by consumers, said water board General Manager Patsy Trecost. “When they estimate your gas bill and it looks high, doesn’t that blow your mind,” he said.
    The amount of calls from customers inquiring about their bills is considerably higher in the months when bills are estimated, Trecost said.
    About 40 percent of the calls taken in a month when bills are estimated are from perplexed customers, as compared to 10 percent of the calls in months when the meters are read, he said.
    The water board is able to begin reading all of its meters every month because it stopped managing the Lost Creek-Mount Clare Public Service District last summer. An employee placed in Lost Creek full-time will now become the water board’s third meter reader, Trecost said. “The opportunity’s here and we’re going to take advantage of it,” he said. “Now is the opportune time.”
        The water board has been planning this move since it stopped managing Lost Creek last August. But new maps had to be drawn and changes had to be made to billing and computer programs before implementation, Trecost said.
 The changes will also help the water board to identify and correct service problems quicker, Trecost added.
Some customers will see changes in their billing and due dates, he said. Any customers who have questions can contact the water board, he said.
    “We feel this change will make the customers happy, and that is our main goal,” Trecost said.



Weston suspects
want charges dropped
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER

    Attorneys for three parents accused of setting a deadly 1997 blaze in Weston are asking a judge to dismiss the arson resulting in death charges because they say federal prosecutors do not have the jurisdiction. Under federal law, arson resulting in death can result in the death penalty.
    Attorneys say there are several criteria prosecutors must meet for the charge. According to court records, defense attorneys say prosecutors must show that the defendants maliciously damaged or destroyed the property by fire or explosive.
Additionally, the building must have been used in interstate or foreign commerce or affect interstate or foreign commerce. Defense attorneys contend the house in Weston was not connected with commerce and therefore the federal charges should not have been filed.
    Defense attorneys also are asking federal Magistrate David Core to move the highly publicized trial away from the Clarksburg area because of prejudicial media coverage. Attorneys are also asking for the three to be tried separately.
Ricky Brown, Barbara Brown and Janette Ables are accused of setting fire to a house in Weston in November 1997 to cash in on insurance money on the residence and the five children who died.
    Killed were Barbara Brown’s three children, Seronica Castner, 10, Kimberly Castner, 9, and Brandon Castner, 8, as well as Ables’ two children, Nicole Ables, 6, and Jimmy Ables, 3. Ricky Brown was stepfather of the Castner children.
No date has been set for a hearing before Core to consider those and other motions filed by defense attorneys earlier this month in federal court. Prosecutors have until April 16 to file responses to the motions.
    Barbara Brown’s attorneys are asking for the trial to be moved to either Wheeling or Martinsburg.
    According to court records, her attorney lists several reasons the trial should be moved to Wheeling, including the proximity of the defendants and their attorneys, the lack of media coverage in the Northern Panhandle and other Clarksburg cases moved to Wheeling, including the Mountaineer Militia case.
    All three are currently being held at the Northern Regional Jail and Correctional Facility in Moundsville.
Ricky Brown’s motion asks the trial be moved outside the present media market. The motion also asks that if the trial is moved to another state, it should be moved to a state without a death penalty.
    Janette Ables’ motion also asks that the trial be moved from Clarksburg because of the amount of media coverage.
All three motions contained lists and clippings from various local newspapers.
    As an alternative, the motions to change venue all ask that if the case is not moved, a jury from outside the Clarksburg area should be brought in to hear the case.
    The federal trial for Ricky and Barbara Brown and Janette Ables is scheduled to begin in September in Clarksburg before District Judge Irene Keeley.



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