News for September 22, 1999

$4M bond proposed to reduce debt

by Shawn Gainer
Staff Writer
Officials in the state Department of Administration have developed a proposal to address unpaid debts to retirement funds for educators, judges and public safety workers through a $4 billion bond issue.
Gov. Cecil Underwood supports the plan, which is expected to be a part of the administration's proposals for the spring 2000 session of the state Legislature, Governor's Spokesman Rod Blackstone said Tuesday.
"The analysis seems to be pretty convincing that this is an appropriate course of action, especially when you consider the magnitude of the unfunded liability," Blackstone said. "This should solidify the state's pension plan and provide some peace of mind for state employees."
Blackstone added that state government wouldn't be taking on $4 billion of new debt but would be restructuring the debt that is already owed to the retirement plans. It's much like refinancing a home mortgage to get a lower interest rate. The $4 billion figure is the projected cost of eliminating the retirement fund debts within 34 years.
"People are rightly concerned about taking on debt, but in this case, the state's obligation is already there," he said. "The question is how we will manage it."
Secretary of Administration Joseph Markus, who helped formulate the plan, said the bonds would be sold in a single issue and paid over a 34-year period, the same time that is remaining in the state's current payment plan for the unfunded liability. Markus said state government spent $218.5 million toward the retirement plans in 1999, $199 million in 1998 and $212 million in 1997. He believes the bond issue could save the state $8 million to $30 million a year, based on the difference between fixed payments on the bonds and projected annual payments under the existing plan.
He added that the bond issue would cost approximately $32 million, mostly to cover fees from attorneys and bond salesmen. It would be an underwritten issue, meaning the selling agency would absorb any bonds not sold on the market. Savings from the issue would be divided between the state's Retirement Trust Fund and shoring up the Public Employees Insurance Agency, he said.
Noting that Moody's Financial Services upgraded West Virginia's bond rating in May, Markus said he feels the issue would actually brighten the state's debt picture.
"The unfunded liability is already factored in the state's credit rating. We would be moving it from a soft debt, which means the Legislature can skip a year or two to fill other holes in the budget, to a hard debt, which we have to pay," he said. "From that standpoint we would be a little better off."
Markus also said he believes the fact the unfunded liability is already factored into financial services' analysis of the state's financial health will keep the issue from placing enough strain on the state's bonding capacity to make it difficult to sell issues for other projects.
He added that the bonds would only be issued when interest rates are low enough that payments on the bond debt would not exceed amounts currently spent toward the unfunded liability.
"We'll be asking the Legislature for a 2-year window in which to make the issue. We want to wait for a seller's market and we don't want to try to use a crystal ball for this," he said.
The proposal has been reviewed by the Senate president, the speaker of the House of Delegates and finance committee chairmen in both legislative houses, Markus said.
"We have some details to work out, but so far the response has been positive," he said.

10 local high school bands compete in spectacular way

by Paul Leakan
Staff Writer
They stood in neat rows, almost 1,000 strong, clad in their school's colors as their parents huddled along cold bleachers across the field. On most days when they meet, the young men and women may view each other as rivals.
But a common bond -- a love of music and being a part of something big -- drew together most of the members of area high school bands who participated Tuesday in the 19th annual Band Spectacular at the Hite Field in Clarksburg.
Most band members from Liberty, Doddridge County, South Harrison, Grafton, North Marion, St. Mary's, Lewis County, Lincoln, Bridgeport and Robert C. Byrd high schools made sure to applaud each other's performances Tuesday night.
Of course, there weren't any football games to be played on the field. Not much reason to pound chests and exchange high-fives. Just a chance for each band to showcase their skills in front of their families, friends and each other.
"It's a non-competitive event," said Jude Gore, assistant band director at Liberty High School. "All the kids are rooting for each other."
All of which, some believe, is a good sign considering some of the hatred, violence, intolerance and general feelings of disgust from being left out of the "in" crowd -- a combination that has spread through some high schools around the country in the last few years, sometimes having deadly results.
Being a part of the band helps build character and unity, two things that all youth can benefit from, said Mickey Valentine, president of the Liberty High School Band Boosters.
"It builds a sense of solidarity," Valentine said. "When you're in a band uniform, you're equal to the guy standing next to you."
Frank Dzielski, assistant band director of the Bridgeport High School band, agreed.
"It gives them a chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves," he said.
But the band spectacular on Tuesday did more than help strengthen unity among marching bands from area schools, according to Dennis Zahradnik, assistant principal at Liberty High School.
"We get to see the kids in a different light," he said. "All day long we administrate. Now we get to see their talents."

Bell Atlantic official: New technology molds economy

by Shawn Gainer
Staff Writer
The president and chief executive officer of Bell Atlantic West Virginia said Tuesday that new communications technologies will continue to shape economic development in the Mountain State.
Dennis Bone spoke before The Telephone Pioneers, a group of Bell Atlantic retirees in Clarksburg. Bone said forthcoming changes in the communications industry include improvements in Internet access and the merging of audio, video and data in communications.
"The Internet will play a critical role as speed continues to go up," Bone said. "At the beginning of next year some places in West Virginia will get DSL (digital subscriber link) connections. They're a lot faster. They're like on-ramps to the information superhighway."
The DSL connections will allow Bell Atlantic to compete with cable systems such as AT&T subsidiary TCI Inc., that plan to offer modems through cable service packages, he said.
 Bell Atlantic's "West Virginia 2001" project will include building a statewide ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) network, which is intended to increase communications capabilities for businesses and government agencies, Bone said.
"The ATMs combine voice, data and mail. It allows you to do what you can do with a telephone with a video image added," he said. "People will be able to see who they are talking to."
Bone added that he believes past improvements in communications infrastructure, such as the installation of fiber optic cable throughout the state, has already contributed to economic development.
"The very advanced fiber optic network we already have has helped attract the FBI center and a lot of the back office companies that are helping to change the marketplace and the economy," he said. "I think West Virginia just needs to continue to have robust investment in core information technologies."

Crusading doctor fears his fate being sealed behind closed doors

by Vicki Smith
The Associated Press
MORGANTOWN -- It's been seven years since Dr. Philip Jajosky saw the medical red flags, signs to him that the Navy may have exposed hundreds of its sailors to potentially deadly dust.
Key in his research was a decision by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to change the diagnosis of a sailor who helped scrape adhesive off the decks of aircraft carriers during the 1970s.
The old diagnosis was sarcoidosis, a rare lung disorder with no known cause. The new diagnosis identified silicosis, a chronic respiratory disease caused by inhaling dangerous dust.
That revision has altered more than the prognosis for one former sailor.
It has led to a recommendation by the VA that its 172 medical centers perform detailed medical histories on affected sailors -- and there are no known estimates of how many could be at risk.
Jajosky contends that his research into the issue may also cost him his job as a medical investigator with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
He has been nothing if not outspoken.
If the disease had been correctly identified as silicosis years ago, Jajosky said Monday, hundreds of sailors could have had more effective treatment and perhaps avoided progressive lung disease.
Studying the former sailors also could help the hundreds of civilians who contract dust-related or sarcoid-like diseases every year.
His opinions, if validated, could have enormous financial ramifications for the Navy. Compensation and disability payments to those who have suffered or died of lung disease could become possibilities.
Jajosky, 52, believes that is among the reasons a federal Public Health Service panel in Rockville, Md., is debating his professional fate behind closed doors this week as he awaits the verdict some 200 miles away.
Supporters describe Jajosky as a doctor who selflessly pushed for his findings to be made public against bureaucratic resistance. His superiors criticize him for poor job performance and repeated insubordination.
Jajosky's fight began in 1992 with a call from ex-sailor Jerry Cochran, a minister from Albany, Ga., who had been discharged in 1975 and diagnosed with sarcoidosis. Silicosis was re-diagnosed in 1987.
Once he began investigating, Jajosky found that sailors who served on aircraft carriers had a greater occurrence of the symptoms than sailors on other ships. Black sailors were disproportionately affected.
Jajosky now believes many of the more than 1,200 cases of sarcoidosis diagnosed by the Navy between 1965 and 1993 were actually silicosis, contracted by sailors who chiseled the anti-skid adhesive off the decks of carriers and breathed in silica dust.
He admits he defied the chain of command at NIOSH by going to the Navy with his findings on sarcoidosis before clearing them with his supervisors.
But Jajosky is also troubled by the "tremendous research opportunity for an ongoing public health problem" that he says the Navy, the Veterans Administration and NIOSH are ignoring.
"Very rarely do you have a group with the highest rate of disease, where African-Americans are disproportionately affected, where you have their medical records, and they're all about the same age," he said.
Jajosky said it is the government's obligation to help those it can help, and he draws comparisons to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments of the 1930s in which penicillin was denied to black men infected with syphilis.
Jajosky charges that neither NIOSH nor the Veterans Administration have developed an aggressive outreach program to seek out and test at-risk veterans.
"There was a passive plan; they said, if people come forward of their own volition and ask for help, we'll see them," Jajosky said. "By God, there is a responsibility to make sure the rest of these people are OK."
Jajosky's case has divided colleagues. Some say more studies are unnecessary because the underlying data are incomplete. There is no way to tell, for example, how much dust the sailors might have inhaled.
"Advocacy, if it's not science-driven, is where we get into trouble," said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, NIOSH director in Morgantown.
In his written plea to the panel deciding his fate, Jajosky argued that a physician's conduct should be governed by medical judgment and the Hippocratic oath, not a quasi-military chain of command.
"There are some things called common sense and ethics and morals and a medical oath that supersede everything," he said.
The institute's acting deputy director, Bryan Hardin, has called Jajosky's frustration "understandable and justified." But he said delays in turning Jajosky's research over to the Navy were out of a scientific concern and not meant to suppress the findings.
Seven years into his battle, Jajosky remains convinced he has done the right thing and wonders about those who are now judging him. He is not allowed to face the panel and does not know its composition.
"I just hope it's physicians," he said. "If anyone can understand what I did, it's them."

Local and area news in brief


Kathy Dodd of Glen Falls is not the same Kathy Dodd scheduled to face trial on Dec. 13 after being arraigned in Harrison County Circuit Court on two counts of forgery and two counts of uttery.

Murder trial for Clarksburg teen begins today

The murder trial for Clarksburg teen Kristopher Cox was expected to begin at 9 a.m. today after attorneys spent more than eight hours Tuesday picking a jury.
More than 50 potential jurors were called to begin the selection process, a court official said Tuesday. The process took longer than expected because attorneys and Circuit Judge John Marks questioned jurors individually.
About 5 p.m. Tuesday, a jury of seven men and five women was announced by Circuit Clerk Donald Kopp.
Cox is accused of shooting his mother, Linda Cox, in the face with a 9mm handgun in January. Marks said last week he expected the trial to be over this week.

WVU names dean of dental school

MORGANTOWN (AP) -- An executive with the American Dental Association is the new dean of West Virginia University's School of Dentistry.
James J. Koelbl starts work Oct. 1, WVU officials said Tuesday.
Koelbl has taught and held administrative positions at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Maryland and the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
At the association's Chicago headquarters, he is in charge of the division that issues credentials to more than 1,300 dental programs at colleges and universities across the country.

Ex-minister released four months into his sentence

MORGANTOWN (AP) -- A former Methodist minister convicted of trying to have sex with a 16-year-old boy has been released after serving 128 days of his one-year jail term.
Robert O. Sypolt, 59, of Brookhaven has been ordered to spend six months in home confinement and five years on probation. He was sentenced for second-degree sexual abuse in late May.
Sypolt befriended the boy, luring him to his home with promises of school clothes and supplies. He then encouraged the boy to drink a 40-ounce beer, showed him pornographic books and made unwanted sexual contact.
The boy smashed the beer bottle over Sypolt's head and fled to call police.
The victim's mother Monday criticized Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr. for changing Sypolt's sentence.

Two killed in Tucker County car wreck

THOMAS (AP) -- Two Tucker County High School seniors returning home from a wake were killed when their car skidded off the highway and slammed into a tree.
The single-car accident occurred Monday on U.S. 219 near Thomas. State Police said Tuesday that Matilde Villalobos, 17, of Thomas, and Jillian Roberts, 17, of Parsons died in the accident. Villalobos was driving.
Roberts was the school's head cheerleader.
The teens were returning from a funeral home after attending the wake for a friend's mother who had died of cancer, police said.

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