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W.Va. Democrats air out affirmative action concerns and future of leadership

Danielle Walker is the only Black woman in West Virginia’s Legislature. She is a Democrat.

She has participated in three of the affirmative action caucuses recently established by the Democratic Party — the women’s caucus, the Black caucus and the LGBTQ caucus.

And Walker is concerned about whether those groups are truly being heard by the state party’s leadership.

“Words without works are a waste. No one is a waste in this party. There’s no mountaineer that is a waste also,” Walker, D-Monongalia, said last week.

Differences within West Virginia’s Democratic Party have been pronounced since a raucous, livestreamed June 3 meeting to adopt an affirmative action plan. Members of the new affirmative action committee concluded they were being cut out while, up against a deadline, the party adopted a boilerplate plan to send to the national party.

Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore has said that was just a draft to comply with the deadline and that there would be opportunities to participate in changing it. She said the affirmative action committee has meetings scheduled June 21 and 22, and she will offer any support that is needed.

But since then, the situation hasn’t calmed. Instead, it’s starting to boil.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, and House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, met with Biafore last Monday and asked her to apologize about actions at the meeting. Her public statements have not included acknowledgements of regret.

Belinda Biafore

In public comments to MetroNews last week, Biafore said she wants to move forward.

“This is a time when Democrats need to come together and start looking at candidates and start looking at positive things to make this party better. We think the things we’ve been doing work towards that,” she said Thursday. “I’m excited that we have an affirmative action committee and that we’re working together.”

On Friday, Biafore participated in a lengthy meeting with Baldwin, Skaff and members of the affirmative action committees, participants said. Some of those who participated said they asked for a clear apology and concluded that they would not receive one. So, some requested Biafore resign.

On Saturday, one local Democratic executive committee, the one in Wood County, sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee to express no confidence in Biafore and publicly calling for her resignation. “We cannot promote our values externally if we are unwilling to model them internally,” the local committee wrote.

On Sunday morning, the co-chairman of the Democratic Party’s affirmative action committee, Hollis Lewis, published an opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, saying it’s not enough to just have a seat at the table. It only matters if you’re heard, he wrote. “We find ourselves where we are at tables with no one listening,” he wrote.

And Biafore is subject to a credential hearing at midday Tuesday before the Democratic National Committee over the circumstances of her election to the position in 2020. She first became party chair in 2015 after serving as vice chairwoman since 2004.

Two state legislators, Democrats Mike Pushkin and Kayla Young of Kanawha County, have made public statements calling for a change atop the state party.

The Democratic Party in West Virginia is in the middle of a difficult, messy and sometimes public conversation about its future, its leadership and who will have say-so.

Walker said Biafore reached out to her last week. But Walker has been tending to her son, who is in the hospital with a serious illness.

“At that point, I was full of emotions and it was a priority for me to take care of my child. I texted her because I am a person of respect. I told her we were in the hospital. She sent her warm thoughts and said as soon as I get a moment she would love to have a conversation with me. It’s a step and a start,” Walker said.

Walker says she will continue to take part in affirmative action caucus meetings, and she hopes the effort will make a difference.

“Change in how we organize, strategize and mobilize. Change. Change is never easy. Change can bring on a multitude of different layers. It doesn’t come with a handbook, but what it can come with is clear, concise, consistent communication, a lot of patience from listening, respect and acknowledgement.

She alluded to hopes of actually changing the plan that the state party sent on to the national party.

“I am a Democrat. My family’s legacy are Democrats. I will continue to stand, but I will not be hushed. And I will support those to elevate the voices of the multiple caucuses in the affirmative action caucus. We say that we can make the edits. I can’t wait for those different caucuses to collaborate and get a new edited plan in place,” she said.

Cody Thompson

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, also wants to continue the work of the caucuses. Thompson is a co-chair of the LGBTQ caucus and was frustrated that he couldn’t meaningfully take part in the June 3 executive committee meeting. Once he finally got on the call, the delegate said, he was muted.

In the days after, Thompson said he spoke with Biafore.

“I’ve told her I still have respect for her. I still like her. I just disagree completely with how the meeting was handled and the fact that the affirmative action caucus had no input in the affirmative action plan,” Thompson said last week.

He acknowledged that he doesn’t know what’s to come with the party, but also alluded to the possibility of change.

“Many of us have definite opinions about what needs to happen,” Thompson said. “I think it’s been very quiet, but I think we’re probably going to see some changes within the party.”

Thompson said he wants to continue working with the affirmative action committee and its caucuses, hoping that work actually goes somewhere.

“I’m sure we’re going to be discussing putting our stamp on the affirmative action plan, working on our own bylaws and my concern is we’re going to be working on that stuff. But the plan that was passed out of committee, it was just a generic proposal put together by people who weren’t involved with the4 affirm action caucus,” he said. “Is the DNC going to receive ours and accept it fully?

“I’m hoping we will still be able to address the various minority groups in the affirm action caucus and put our own stamps and beliefs into that plan at that day.”

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle said although much of the public conversation has focused on Biafore’s role, more attention needs to be paid to a meaningful role for underrepresented groups in the party. Hornbuckle noted that he was not taking a position on whether Biafore should stay or go.

“It would be a dog and pony show if we just put this on Belinda,” said Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.  “I’m not advocating for her removal or for her to stay. It would just be awfully shortsighted of us and disingenuous to have her be the fall guy and go about our business because you’re not fixing anything.”

But he said this entire debate should underscore the societal changes necessary to assure meaningful participation by minorities and citizens who have not had say-so.

“It warrants much more for people to talk about and debate. We have to start making actual action on these items. Let’s not just look at politics. Let’s look at other arenas within our state where, let’s be blunt, people who look like me don’t have a seat at the table,” Hornbuckle said.

One path for that is allowing the affirmative action committee and its caucuses to have real voice, he said.

“Let it operate and let it do its thing. Looking, just at affirmative action, but there’s going to be maybe policies that are born of that affects the way our leadership looks in the party.”

Kayla Young

Kayla Young, a first-term delegate from Charleston, put out a statement Friday saying Democrats need assurance that there is a plan and resolution, “rather than the further silencing of voices of those who want to participate in our democracy.”

She continued, “Everyone deserves to participate, and a fractured party creates more problems, rather than solving them. To move forward as a united effort, we need change in our leadership.”

Tina Russell

Tina Russell, a former and future candidate for House of Delegates, agrees.

“All of us feel like we have concerns and we feel like we need to start thinking about new leadership at the top,” said Russell, a Mercer County resident. “We need to start talking about new leadership.”

Russell is on the Black caucus of the affirmative action committee and also serves on the state Democratic Executive Committee. She is also the chairwoman of the West Virginia Working Families Party, a progressive political group.

She said recent issues have brought simmering issues in the party to light. Democrats, long the dominant party in West Virginia, lost all of the elected state-level executive branch offices last year and now have deep minority status in both chambers of the Legislature.

“We really look a shellacking in this last election. Even though we have issues with how this issue was handled, there were problems before this meeting. We just feel like that conversation needs to start happening,” she said, referring to a party leadership change.

Despite all the frustration, Russell said the work must continue on the affirmative action committees.

“I think it’ll bear more fruit than doing nothing. We have to continue the committees and continue the caucuses. If not we slip into the same thing as before with all these people of color having no say-so on these committees,” she said.

“We’re going to hold them to account. We’re going to come up with plans and policies. We’re going to submit those things to the state committee and expect them to vote on it. We’re not going to just let them hand something that will affect us and walk away.”

Airing the differences out in public is messy, Russell agreed, but necessary.

“It’s out in the open now. The problems are laid bare for everyone to see,” she said. “To me, it’s not optional any more. It’s a moral imperative to get it done. So we’re going to get it done.”

Kim Felix

Democrat Kim Felix, also of Mercer County, was one of those who participated in Friday’s call with Biafore. She said the meeting was meant to reach a consensus about the recent turmoil and figure out a way to rectify it. But she said participants and Biafore never got on the same page.

“Unfortunately, the meeting really couldn’t progress or accomplish what it was set out to do,” Felix said. “The affirmative action committee as well as other individuals were disappointed by her inability to recognize and apologize. I think this whole thing would have gone away a long time ago if she had just made an effort to apologize.”

So, Felix said, some have started asking for Biafore to resign or to be removed.

She said it didn’t have to come to that.

“I don’t think it’s immovable. I think that unfortunately she’s not taken advantage of the opportunity brought before her to be a peaceful and amicable process. The goal isn’t to embarrass Belinda. It isn’t our goal to antagonize her. It is our goal to move the party forward as best we can.

“We want to be doing that in the most respectful way possible, by calling for her resignation and by giving her the opportunity to resign. It could be an exit you’re proud of. She remains adamant that’s not what she wants to do.”

Felix is participating on the Black caucus, and also intends to work with the Latin caucus, which is one of three that haven’t had a chance to meet yet. She wants to keep pushing forward, not only with the caucuses but on voting rights issues such as Congress’s “For the People Act,” along with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“This can’t go on unaddressed. We can’t just keep doing business as usual because that’s not what’s going on here,” Felix said. “I think this is a really fortuitous opportunity for the Democratic Party as well as the state party to make some sweeping changes that brings the dissenting voice and the voices of those who have been silenced back into the fold.

“I would hope the leadership would take the opportunity to not only correct those actions by the chairwoman but to also signal to those of color that they’re appreciative of the support and they are earnestly looking to move the party forward.”

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CAMC’s Run for Your Life event returns to in-person

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The CAMC Foundation will host its Run for Your Life event Saturday to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and money for screening initiatives.

The event — which includes a 5-mile run and a 2.5-mile walk — will begin at 8 a.m. at Haddad Riverfront Park in Charleston, in which runners and walkers will move through the streets of Charleston before ending at the starting location.

Participants ran on their own last year because of the ongoing pandemic.

Josh Sword

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among both men and women.

Josh Sword, the president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, is serving as co-chair of the event alongside his wife Kelly. Sword understands what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer; he learned he had stage 3 colorectal cancer in March 2018.

“I had to go through chemotherapy, radiation, a number of surgeries,” he said recently on “MetroNews Talkline.”

“My body responded really well to the treatment, and if all things continue to go well, this coming August, I’ll be three years cancer-free.”

Elisabeth Payne, the event’s honorary chairwoman, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer when she was 16 years old. Doctors removed the cancerous polyp on her colon before it could spread.

“It doesn’t discriminate,” Sword said. “It doesn’t matter what your age is, what color your skin is, what gender you are.”

People can register for the event HERE for $25 before Wednesday and $30 between Wednesday and the start of the event. Registration will also be accepted Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. at Haddad Riverfront Park.

Participants can pick up their registration packets Friday at the CAMC Cancer Center at 3414 MacCorkle Ave. SE in Charleston from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Social distancing and facial coverings will also be required.

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Putnam County students ready for a unique summer school experinece

WINFIELD,W.Va. — Across West Virginia there will be an unusually strong emphasis on summer school this year. Many school districts are using the opportunity to get students back in the classroom and to catch up after many spend the past year and a half struggling with virtual learning.

John Hudson

But in Putnam County, education officials say the need for credit recovery isn’t as big as they anticipated and it has allowed them to move toward a new opportunity to give students some hands on learning in a particular field of study.

“It is career focused and standards based. It’s to mix fun and excitement with our learning as students have an opportunity at two three week sessions,” said Putnam County Superintendent John Hudson.

Hudson and his team made a presentation on the program to the state Board of Education during the board’s most recent meeting in Charleston. The program is called “Project Lead the Way” and focuses on technical training in areas where students indicated a desire to gain more knowledge.

“The programs of study aligns to what our students indicated they were interested in and what our business and industry indicated offered opportunities for employment,” said Dr. Christy Chambers with the Putnam County Board of Education.

The fields of study include biomedical, aerospace, robotics, and pre-engineering.

“They will have in the morning about 165 minutes where they’ll have design and modeling. for discovery of design and processes of engineering and medical ‘detective’.” Hudson explained.

The county was excited about the opportunity to expose Putnam County students at all three levels, high school, middle school, and elementary school to some form of those courses of study where there are needs for employment and students had shown an interest in learning more.

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With ominous mine reclamation liability, West Virginia looks to federal dollars

West Virginia lawmakers are aiming to draw down millions of federal dollars to help assuage the increasing possibility that mine reclamation costs could spiral out of control and swamp the state budget.

During interim meetings last week, legislative leaders agreed to establish a Joint Committee on Mine Reclamation. Its mission is to establish a plan to access federal stimulus money for mine reclamation and report back by June 25.

The Biden administration has made clear that it has identified hundreds of millions of dollars meant to revitalize coalfield communities and to bolster employment while also improving the environment.

West Virginia lawmakers see yet another need: economic support for the increasingly perilous problem of mine reclamation.

Funding for mine reclamation in West Virginia has become such a question that environmental groups including the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit last month aimed at pressuring the federal government to intervene.

This past week, lawmakers had just heard the summary of a 52-page report laying out the likelihood of mine reclamation as a budget bomb when Senate President Craig Blair proposed getting into position for a federal lifeline.

Blair noted that the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization has identified nearly $38 billion in existing federal funding that could be accessed for infrastructure, environmental remediation, community revitalization, and jobs to support hard-hit energy communities.

He alluded to a conversation with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who visited West Virginia this month with Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

“I brought up, when they were asking how they could help, I brought up this issue. We need to take it, repackage it and go back to them,” said Blair, R-Berkeley.

“We need to repackage this together in such a way that we can utilize some of them. Otherwise, we’re looking at a billion-dollar problem of our own.”

The day after Blair’s remarks, West Virginia’s Joint Committee on Mine Reclamation was approved.

Its urgency was laid out as a snowballing problem in a report by the West Virginia Office of the Legislative Auditor. In short, West Virginia is subject to federal requirements to have enough money available to complete reclamation for any areas where permit holders default.

West Virginia allows mining companies to post bonds of $1,000 to $5,000 an acre, amounts that the Department of Environmental Protection estimates would cover only about 10 percent of reclamation costs. West Virginia fills the gap with what it calls Special Reclamation Funds, which are are funded primarily by a 27.9 cent tax levied on every short ton of coal produced.

But increased reclamation costs combined with economic strain on the coal industry has highlighted the possibility of a financial crisis.

An organization called the Special Reclamation Fund Advisory Council projects liabilities for permits already in existence to be $496.7 million over the next twenty years.

“West Virginia’s coal mining reclamation program will continue to require hundreds of millions of dollars to reclaim permit sites in accordance with federal regulations,” the legislative auditor’s report concluded.

“The program has no known contingency plans if the reclamation funds were to become insolvent. If the current funding sources for the program were to prove insufficient to meet the demands of reclamation, the resulting additional financial obligations could prove to be detrimental to the state’s budget.”

One big worry is the number of coal companies that have gone bankrupt in recent years. Six publicly-traded coal companies holding 52 percent of the permits and 59 percent of the mines in the state declared bankruptcy between April 2014 and January 2016, the report noted.

“The most obvious effect on the Special Reclamation Funds is the presumption that companies going through bankruptcy are the most vulnerable financially,” the report stated.

“The largest companies have been able to reorganize or sell off assets and re-emerge from bankruptcy. However, the large number of sites going through multiple companies and/or bankruptcies is a potential indicator that these sites may not be sustainable long-term.”

Blair, in his remarks to fellow lawmakers, blamed federal climate change policy for that strain on coal producers. But he said the federal government could be responsible for a solution too.

“The federal administration has put us in this position where fossil energy is where it’s at today,” he said. “So we need to be able to take your report, repackage it in such a way that we can actually put that on Secretary Manchin’s desk, the Secretary of Energy’s desk and anybody else.”

President Biden’s infrastructure proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, proposes spending $16 billion to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines.

Besides that, a White House-appointed group aiming at revitalizing coal communities identified $38 billion from existing federal funds to revitalize communities. That’s the money that caught Blair’s attention.

Part of that is $152.2 million in annual reclamation grants from the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

The White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization named 25 areas that need help. Five of those constitute big swaths of West Virginia.

Federal leaders have described the funding boost not only in terms of cleanup, but also in terms of jobs.

Jennifer Granholm

While on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Granholm spoke of the effort to help coal communities come back.

“We have identified $38 billion that are available to these 25 coal and power plant regions, and I’d say 80 percent of West Virginia is in that bucket,” Granholm said.

“We are determined to leave no one behind. But I hear what you’re saying. People who have felt like they have been left behind or made promises to or haven’t been fulfilled, I get it.”

.@SecGranholm and @Sen_JoeManchin spoke with @HoppyKercheval earlier today about the energy future of this country. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/sLhb3lZFBQ

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 4, 2021

An earlier report by the United Mine Workers, “Preserving Coal Country,” included a section about the possibility of increased jobs from reclamation work:

“Fully-fund all anticipated Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation needs, require states to aggregate contracts for AML reclamation and require prevailing wages so that union contractors can successfully compete for those contracts.”

Blair last week described reclamation work as a sensible transition for coal miners who have lost jobs.

“Displaced miners don’t need a whole lot of retraining to get back in and do reclamation. It’s a win-win scenario from that standpoint,” he said.

Blair turned to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw to see if he agrees.

“I’m looking for anything that puts our people on the payroll,” Hanshaw said.

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WVU, WVSU partnership to enhance vaccination education efforts in four West Virginia counties

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — Enhancement of vaccine education and immunization outreach are the two goals for West Virginia State University (WVSU) and West Virginia University (WVU) when the partnership between their Extension Services begins in the coming weeks.

Tiffany-Ellis Williams

The partnership came after a grant of nearly $250,000 was awarded to the state’s two land grant universities. The award was presented by the Extension Foundation, in cooperation with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, through an Interagency Agreement with the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to address health disparities among rural and other underserved communities across the United States.

The Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching & Engagement initiative is a result of the recent announcement from the CDC to provide $9.95 million funding to the USDA-NIFA to support an innovative approach to community education and partnerships to advance adult immunization.

The two extension services will have a strong focus on multi-generational families and other vulnerable populations in four West Virginia counties. Faculty and staff have partnered to create the “Don’t Wait, Vaccinate!” initiative to provide information on immunizations, including education and awareness around the COVID-19 vaccines.

“We target this because we feel like grandparents struggle with getting updated knowledge and resources for their kids,” Tiffany Ellis-Williams, Director of WVSU Economic Development Center told MetroNews.

The team reviewed data from all 55 counties, including areas with greater health disparities and minority populations, and will use the grant funding to focus their education and outreach efforts on four counties: Clay, Kanawha, McDowell and Mercer. WVU will be leading program implementation in McDowell and Mercer counties, while WVSU will lead programming in Clay and Kanawha counties, Ellis-Williams said.

The focus will be on an assessment to who has received a COVID-19 vaccination and then if not, why have they been hesitant to get one. Ellis-Williams said surveys would go out to grandfamilies in those areas, then from the assessment, the extension services would develop a curriculum to educate families on the importance of receiving COVID-19 vaccination.

She said there is also plans for educational workshops and town hall meetings with local health officials to explain the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccinations.

Ellis-Williams is looking forward to the collaborative effort which will last the next two years.

“We feel like we can reach a larger audience with manpower and the funding we’ve received. We want to make sure we are maximizing our efforts,” she said.

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Hoyer explains efforts to attract DataRobot to Morgantown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A West Virginia University leader says DataRobot’s decision to open an office in the Mountain State was a team effort to sell the state and what officials want to achieve.

DataRobot announced last week plans to open an office in Morgantown as part of a partnership with West Virginia University and the John Chambers College of Business and Economics. The company focuses on producing artificial intelligence software to automate business tasks, in which its clients include the Kroger Co., PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and the University of Michigan.

James Hoyer, an associate vice president at West Virginia University, said state and institution officials worked together on pitching the university and the state’s economic goals.

“They were looking for a partner,” he said on “MetroNews Talkline” last week. “They were looking for a place where they could, with that partner, make an impact.”

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and business school executive director of vantage ventures Sarah Biller spoke with DataRobot CEO David Right about possibly opening an office in Morgantown.

Hoyer said DataRobot officials noted the culture of West Virginia has a positive.

“They liked what they saw in the work ethic of the people, the good, down-home people that we have in West Virginia as a place to do business,” he said. “We pitched them the concept I talk about a lot with the president and the governor [Jim Justice], and that’s let’s make West Virginia the center of the universe for solving big, national problems. They bought into that idea.”

DataRobot plans to hire between 30 and 40 people for the new location; Hoyer noted the company already has its first employee: a recent West Virginia University graduate.

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FestivALL kicks off Sunday in Charleston with hybrid schedule of events planned

CHARLESTON, W.Va.Charleston’s FestivALL is back to in-person events, while still holding some virtual, to kick off its 17th year on Sunday.

The city-wide, multi-arts festival in Charleston showcases a mix of music, theater, dance, visual art, and more until June 27. The 2020 event was held all virtual due to COVID-19 and FestivALL Executive Director Maria Belcher said they are still playing it safe with events this year.

“While we have planned to be able to accommodate as many people, we have found alternative venues. A lot of events are happening outdoors this year in order for people to feel safer and comfortable coming out to enjoy in-person theater, dance and music performances,” she told MetroNews flagship 580-WCHS.

Maria Belcher

She said the following year’s event prep takes place as soon as the current year event ends. That forced many artists, performers and producers to be up in the air for 2021 plans due to the fluidity of the pandemic. To follow current COVID-19 guidelines, the annual celebration will offer three types of experiences: in-person, virtual, and combination (meaning that some in-person events will also be recorded to air on the FestivALL YouTube channel.)

“At the beginning of this year, we still weren’t sure what kind of in-person, large-scale concerts would be possible by the time June would be around. What we decided together with our partners was to put together a hybrid experience,” Belcher said.

The festival officially kicks off Sunday with the Carriage Trail Walk with music, art and dance. Paul Thorn, Amythyst Kiah and John Ellison all perform on Mountain Stage on Sunday.

On June 19, the CAMC Run for Your Life takes place in downtown to kick off the day. There is a virtual Juneteenth Celebration from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and then again the evening. On June 19, there is a pre-game concert at Power Park followed by the baseball game. The Charleston Light Opera Guild presents ‘Putting it Together’ at 8 p.m. that night.

On June 20, there is a West Virginia Birthday Celebration Concert at 2 p.m. that is free at the Kanawha State Forest.

A full schedule of events can be found HERE.

FestivALL Summer Art Fair is taking place at Capitol Market every Saturday and all festival long is the “Show Your Pride” window display contest in downtown. The Children’s Art Fair is now taking place at Davis Park.

The events wrap up June 27 with live music and dance on Capitol Street from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and another performance by the Charleston Light Opera Guild at 8 p. m. at the new Susan Runyan Maier Sculpture Garden at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences

“FestivALL is a time to celebrate and to get together with friends and family. Share in the joys of creativity and self-expression and finding new things to enjoy. At the end of this long year and a half, it’s a bright spot that people are looking forward to,” Belcher said.

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Parkersburg boys, Jefferson girls wrap up track season with Class AAA titles

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After rain was a theme for the first two days of the state track and field meet, the usual hot conditions that have often been been associated with the event at University of Charleston Stadium returned throughout the Class AAA portion Saturday.

With it, Parkersburg’s boys team notched its first team title since 2014, while the Jefferson girls left with top honors for the first time since 2009.

“We thought we had a team that could compete for a title last year, but we obviously didn’t get to,” Parkersburg boys coach Rod O’Donnell said. “To win it this year really shows the work these guys put in the offseason and just how focused they were at this event.”

Wheeling Park senior Torrence Walker claimed victories in three events to claim boys high-point honors, and Morgantown sophomore Irene Riggs also took first in a trio of events for girls high-point honors.

Wheeling Park’s Torrence Walker claimed high-point honors. Photo by Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

Walker, who posted his first victory Friday in the 400-meter dash at 48.45, notched two more titles on the final day of the season. The Patriots’ speedster set a 100-meter state record in preliminaries at 10.50, and followed it with a 10.59 finish in the finals. That allowed him to edge freshman teammate Jerrae Hawkins, Jr., who was runner-up at 10.75.

“I can’t even describe the feeling,” Walker said. “It’s just a blessing. We’ve been working so hard this season and I’m pumped.“

Walker was also victorious in the 200 with a finish of 21.43 that challenged James Jett’s state record from 1989, when the former Jefferson legend who went on to play in the NFL set it at 21.39.

“It’s an honor to be up there and I’m really humbled to be known as one of those top guys and be in a group with those names,” Walker said.

Like Walker, Riggs also won a Friday event, as the Mohigan standout took the 3,200 meter run at 10:50.51. Complacency didn’t set in Saturday as Riggs won the 1,600 at 4:56.32 and 800 at 2:15.70.

“I’m pleased with the way I performed,” Riggs said. “I tried to do whatever I could to help my team. At states, it all comes down to one day and you don’t ever know how it’s going to go here.”

Morgantown’s Irene Riggs claimed high-point honors. Photo by Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

The JHS girls followed a Friday win from Lorelei Bangit in the 400 (57.54) with a pair of first-place relay finishes Saturday that helped the Cougars notch the title with 87 points.

In the 4×100, Jordan Carr joined forces with Trinity Blue, Hailey Dillow and Bangit to finish first at 49.86.

“The relay teams came up big and they did a really good job for us,” Jefferson girls coach John Serian said. “Everybody played their part.”

The Cougars also won the 4×200, with Carr, Dillow, Blue and Arayia Maiben finishing in 1:44.60.

“It’s been a long year and I have some great assistant coaches,” Serian said. “The sprint coach is Dana Clark and she does a heck of a job. I work with the throwers and the throwers came through. This is the first year we’ve really had great throws and it’s a blessing.”

Jefferson’s girls team wrapped up its season by winning the Class AAA team title. Photo by Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

Hurricane’s Lily Haught was another multiple event winner. Haught took the 100 hurdles at 14.83 and edged Wheeling Park’s Marlee Porter in the 300 hurdles by the most narrow of margins (44.01 to 44.02).

Porter did manage a victory in the 200 at 25.54 and teamed with Mia Zecca, Maya Taggart and Abby Barki to give the Patriots a win in the 4×400 at 4:08.65.

Brook’s Mara Pendergrast won the high jump at 5-04, while Lincoln County’s Lilli Ross claimed the shot put title at 35-05.75.

Other individual winners included: Capital’s Candace Morris in the 100 meter with a finish of 12.13 that was only 0.04 seconds from tying the state record held by Riverside’s Ciara Chic; Hedgesville’s Skylar Yates in the pole vault (10-01); University’s Sierra Lanham in the long jump at 17-10 and Huntington’s Ravyn Goodson in the discus with a throw of 120-06.

The Parkersburg quartet of Lily Wharton, Claire Tatterson, Kendal Domenick and Addison Gherke won the 4×110 shuttle hurdles at 1:05.68.

Morgantown’s Amelia Summers, Maddie Gump, Jennifer O’Palko and Anna Lester took first in the 4×800 at 9:50.57.

The Mohigans were runner-up to the Cougars with 77 points, while Wheeling Park took third with 74 points.

For the Parkersburg boys, Justin Waybright won both the discus (164-05) and shot put (48-08.50) to aid the charge to the title. The shot put was particularly important to the Big Reds, who also had second and third-place finishes from Charlie Bauman and Casey Mahoney, respectively, to total 24 of their 110 points.

“The throwing events were a big part of our success,” O’Donnell said. “Especially what Justin was able to do, but all three of those guys in the shot put came up big.”

The Big Reds also got a key win from Keegan Barnette in the 800 meter (1:59.34), with teammate Franklin Angelos runner-up in that event. Aaron Kupfner provided PHS with a first-place finish in the 110 hurdles at 14.86.

“It was a total team effort,” O’Donnell said.

After setting a new state record Friday with a 8:52.82 finish in the 3,200, University’s Larry Edwards also took first in the 1,600 at 4:12.02. Edwards’ individual victories were half of the four titles UHS won. The others came from Daminn Cunningham in the long jump at 21-08.75 and the 4×800 relay team of Edwards, Jordan Thomas, Rocco DeVincent and Ryan Blohm, who finished in 8:00.18.

Jefferson won a pair of relays with Caleb Shelton, Justin de Moulin, Keyshawn Robinson and Isaiah Fritts taking first in the 4×200 (1:28.79) and de Moulin, Kyle de Nobel, Justin Gottlieb and Harris Kester claiming the 4×400 (3:32.39).

WPHS got a title without Walker factoring in as the 4×100 team of Alex Canestrato, Sincere Sinclair, Christian Sorge and Hawkins Jr. took first at 43.35.

Musselman’s 4×110 shuttle hurdles team of Cesar Zilleruelo, Ty Hosby, Wyatt Newcome and Jacob Sturba was first at 58.31.

Other individual award winners included: Martinsburg’s Doryn Smith in the high jump at 6-02; Huntington’s Noah Waynick in the 300 hurdles at 40.53 and Washington’s Francisco Amore in the pole vault at 16-00.

Wheeling Park was runner-up to Parkersburg with 81 points, while University (59) and Jefferson (53) finished third and fourth, respectively.

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Justice’s debt, built on trust, is now a billion-dollar personal risk

In 2017, when legendary Virginia banker Worth Carter died at age 79, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice mourned the loss of a longtime, trusted financial partner and spoke at Carter’s funeral.

“We grew together,” Justice said. “I knew I could count on him, and always did.”

The chain of community banks that Worth Carter Founded, Martinsville-based Carter Bank & Trust, had been a key to the growth of Justice’s own business empire. Justice has described a relationship built on trust, inspiring deals that could be sealed with a handshake.

But that funeral marked a turn of events that sent Justice’s businesses deeper and deeper into perilous financial territory. The personal relationship is now a high-stakes and acrimonious parting of the ways.

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice, whose status as West Virginia’s only billionaire was downgraded over the recent troubles, continues his role as the state’s governor. But in the background lurks financial drama that has drawn the attention of the business world.

On the line for the governor is a billion dollars in personal liability.

This month, Justice and his businesses sued Worth Carter’s old community bank chain, seeking to hold it accountable for $421 million in damages. Far from trust, Justice contends new leaders at the bank instituted more and more restrictions, tightening cash flow for the family businesses.

“Carter Bank is no longer a ‘lifetime financial partner,’ as it proclaims and as it had acted prior to Worth Carter’s death but a determined, self-proclaimed adversary,” wrote lawyers for multiple businesses owned by the governor and his family.

Justice acknowledges $368 million of outstanding loans with Carter Bank, millions in debt accompanied by the risk of personal guarantees.

That’s on top of a second, bigger financial crisis. When the relationship with Carter Bank started turning sour, the Justice companies partnered with a different financial suitor. That was Greensill Capital, an international financial services firm that went bankrupt this spring.

“We were just trying to pay Carter Bank off, and lo and behold it’s just almost the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Governor Justice said during a state news briefing this month.

Greensill packaged the loans and sold them to investment funds managed by the financial services company Credit Suisse.

Credit Suisse is now pressing to recover lost investments and has named Justice’s Bluestone Resources as one of three major borrowers from the Greensill funds. That original loan amount was $850 million, and the current debt is $700 million.

Justice acknowledged personally guaranteeing those loans as well. He and his companies have a separate lawsuit against Greensill, contending they were snookered into taking on all that debt.

Together, the lawsuits are a financial nightmare that has developed from what once was rock-solid financial trust.

“You know, Worth Carter died a few years back. He was a great, great man with honor beyond belief and we did a lot, a lot, a lot of business together. I’m sure along the way it was tremendously helpful to the bank. It was tremendously helpful to our businesses. We did exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Justice said.

“We did everything from the standpoint of doing the right stuff with the bank, and Worth Carter was a prince of a man. And since his death, it’s been chaos at the bank.”

Worth Carter

Worth Carter

Worth Carter was widely regarded as a brilliant man, a mathematical genius. He had worked as a cashier at Safeway stores while putting himself through college, went to work as a bank examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and then became an executive at Piedmont Trust Bank in Martinsville, Va.

His drive led him to First National Bank in Rocky Mount in 1974 with eight employees and $1.2 million in assets. He kept on opening branches in rural Virginia and North Carolina until he led 10 community banks with 950 employees and $4.5 billion in assets, all bearing his name Carter Bank & Trust.

Bruce Whitehurst, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Bankers Association, told the Martinsville Bulletin when Carter died that even though banking had changed dramatically his friend had carried on “in the traditional way” – with customers being able to walk into their local bank branch and have all of their needs handled there.

Loans from Carter Bank kept Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., afloat during hard times, recalled its former president, Jerry Falwell Jr., who spoke along with Justice at Carter’s funeral.

“His willingness to loan to Liberty when the big banks all said no was key to Liberty stabilizing its finances and growing to become one of the most successful and prosperous universities in the nation,” Falwell told American Banker in 2017, a few years prior to his resignation from Liberty.

“Countless businesses would not exist across Virginia and North Carolina but for the genius of Worth Carter in recognizing the solid business plans and the good character of many folks who didn’t fit the mold imposed by big banks.”

Jim Justice met Carter in 2001, with the banker courting a business relationship.

“Governor Justice and Worth Carter met in 2001. As Worth Carter sought to expand his banking businesses, he actively pursued a commercial lending relationship with Governor Justice and his growing agricultural, mining and hospitality operations,” according to the lawsuit by the Justice companies.

The partnership was launched with a single real estate loan of $4.5 million. By the end of 2011, the financial relationship had grown to more than $170 million in 20-year loans to the Justice businesses.

“Sometimes he would tell them the lending was approved and shake hands,” the lawsuit states. “Money would then be advanced and the ‘details’ (lien documentation, loan documentation) would be handled days or weeks later.”

Big moves and unwelcome change

Over the course of the relationship, Justice made a couple of major financial moves.

Justice sold the family’s coal operations, broadly called Bluestone, to the Russian company Mechel in May 2009 for $568 million and then bought the company back in 2015 for $5 million.

And to much acclaim, Justice’s family purchased the iconic Greenbrier Resort out of bankruptcy in 2009. Worth Carter held the first shovel at the end of a line of dignitaries when ground was broken for a new casino at the resort.

In the middle of all that, according to Justice’s lawsuit, Worth Carter approached the Justices about lending even more money so the companies could stay afloat. By the end of 2015, just as Justice was buying back the coal properties, Carter Bank had loaned more than $400 million to the Justice companies in anticipation of a coal industry rebound.

That debt grew to $775 million by 2016.

Justice has said the money was necessary because the properties deteriorated on Mechel’s watch.

“We took over and we’ve been building them back,” Justice said at a briefing this month.

By the time Worth Carter died, the Justice companies had paid that down to $740 million and had transitioned to using Carter Bank as a near-exclusive financing provider.

Transition at the bank coincided with Justice’s first few months in office as West Virginia’s governor.

Justice was inaugurated Jan. 16, 2017, while the state was facing a financial crisis but he gave no hint that his own would even be a possibility.  “I want absolutely nothing, nothing,” he said at his inaugural address. “I don’t want a thing for me or my family in any way. All I want is goodness for this incredible state and its incredible people.”

By the end of that month, Jan. 30, 2017, Justice issued a letter to state employees saying he was pursuing a blind trust for his many businesses, but describing his holdings his as too complicated to move quickly.

There was no mention that personal guarantees might be at odds with a blind trust.

“Being Governor is a full-time responsibility,” Justice wrote. “I want to put all of my assets in a blind trust, however, the process has been slowed down by the multitude of financial institutions that work with my family’s companies.”

And just a few months after that, April 7, 2017, the single most important connection with those financial institutions, Worth Carter, died. His death came a day before the finale of Justice’s first regular legislative session when, as the clock ticked on April 8, the governor dramatically announced a possible state budget deal that turned out to be a mirage.

Following Carter’s death, according to the Justice lawsuit, the relationship with the bank bearing his name deteriorated. New management became more restrictive and accelerated outstanding debt, according to the lawsuit.

“This hostility came despite what was then an over 15-year mutually beneficial relationship during which the Justice Entities had consistently and timely serviced all debt owed to Carter Bank,” the Justice lawsuit states.

Carter Bank describes the same longstanding relationship, but expresses the change in terms of its fiduciary duty.

“Various Justice Entities have been customers of Carter Bank for many years,” Carter Bank wrote in response to the lawsuit.

“Beginning approximately five years ago, Carter Bank began to reduce its credit exposure to the Justice Entities and repeatedly informed the Justice Entities of the bank’s goal of reducing its credit exposure to the Justice Entities.”

The bank’s statement to shareholders continued, alluding to a battle over what the Justices owe.

“Banks have an obligation to their shareholders and the financial system to collect in full all amounts that are due and owing to them. Carter Bank is no different from any other bank in this regard. As with all its customers, Carter Bank expects to be repaid by the Justice Entities all amounts due and owing in full in a timely manner as agreed-upon in the various loan documents existing between the parties.

“Carter Bank believes that it is fully secured on all loans it has outstanding to the Justice Entities. All those loans are also backed by personal guarantees from James C. Justice, II and his wife, Cathy Justice. A number of them are also backed by personal guarantees from James C. Justice, III, Mr. Justice’s son.”

New lender arrives, complications grow

As the relationship with Carter Banks went south, a new lender came on the scene.

Roland Hartley-Urquhart

That was Greensill Financial Services. In contrast to Carter Bank’s homegrown presence, Greensill was an international financial services company based in the United Kingdom, focusing on supply chain financing that links buyers and sellers with the financial institution in the middle.

Greensill’s relationship with Justice started about May 2018. The business was personified by Roland Hartley-Urquhart, vice chairman at Greensill who took credit for inventing modern supply-chain finance.

Jay Justice

He was introduced to the Justice businesses by a mutual acquaintance — never named — and first met in White Sulphur Springs, home of The Greenbrier, with the governor and James Justice III, known as Jay, the chief executive of the coal operations.

From that introduction through this past February, when the relationship burst, Jay Justice spoke on the telephone or in person with Hartley-Urquhart two or three times a week, according to the Justice lawsuit.

Bluestone entered two financing programs offered by Greensill. One, a smaller amount of  $70 million was at the core of Greensill’s business model, the supply-chain financing. Greensill would facilitate quick payments for the coal Bluestone could provide to the buyers on the other side of the arrangement.

The far larger amount, $780 million, was through a far different “receivables purchase program.” That worked by establishing credit against “receivables that have not yet been generated by Bluestone” from “prospective buyers” which included “entities that were not and might not ever become customers of Bluestone.”

So this was based not on Bluestone’s ability to deliver and collect, “but rather based on Bluestone’s long-term business prospects” that might or might not exist. The loans were rolling over as they matured.

Despite that magic financing, Justice’s lawsuit characterized the initial relationship with Roland Hartley-Urquhart and Greensill by using very similar language to how Worth Carter was described. At first, the financial arrangements were “supported by a relationship of mutual trust.”

Personal risk

June 26, 2018, a Tuesday, was an extraordinarily busy and momentous day.

That day Governor Justice called the Legislature into special session to consider impeachment of members of the state Supreme Court. The same day, Justice announced on social media that he was meeting with President Trump, a political ally, to “discuss the ‘Trump-Justice Coal Plan,” which envisioned a federal mandate on coal reserves to protect the power grid in case of catastrophe.

“More WV prosperity on the way!” the governor’s account tweeted. The proposal never came to fruition.

Finally on June 26, with that boost of confidence about coal, the governor and first lady Cathy Justice, along with Jay, executed personal guarantees on the Greensill loans that were fueling their coal business. The Justices say they were under the impression that the loans wouldn’t come due until well into the future, 2023 at the earliest.

Now the Justices say they were misled to enter those personal guarantees, believing they would provide the capital necessary to restructure and restart mining operations.

“Plaintiffs only signed the personal guarantee because of the understanding between the parties that the Enterprise financing was a long-term financing,” according to the Justice lawsuit.

“Had plaintiffs known that the Enterprise Financing was a short-term financing, effectively callable at will, Plaintiffs would never have agreed on signing the personal guarantees.”

That wasn’t the end of the financial adventures, though.

Greensill also entered an agreement in 2019 for the right to an ownership stake up to 10 percent in Bluestone, valued at about $100 million elsewhere in the lawsuit.

And in 2019, aiming to increase capacity and diversify its holdings, Bluestone acquired a coke plant in Birmingham, Ala., as well as the West Virginia metallurgical coal assets of Pinnacle Mining Co.

Of the original $850 million in debt, what remains is $700 million, the amount West Virginia’s governor is now liable for personally.

Now on the hook for it, the governor this month acknowledged conversations with his family about the enormous debt.

“I’ve had to review this with my family. What was going on what the rebuilding of Bluestone. We knew it would take hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Bluestone,” he said at a briefing.

“We’ll continue to pay our obligations and move forward. But this one is a bad, bad, bad actor that got caught. We didn’t have one earthly clue. It’s terribly unfortunate and something our family will have to deal with.”

Evolving crisis

There were hints that the Greensill arrangement was getting bad, and then it blew up.

In September, 2020, as the covid-19 pandemic continued to dramatically slow the world’s economy, Jay Justice met with Hartley-Urquhart at his home in New York and, according to the lawsuit, received assurances that Greensill would continue to support Bluestone.

“Mr. Hartley-Urquhart promised to not leave plaintiffs ‘holding the bag’ because he believed in the Bluestone business as an asset and believed in the strength of Bluestone’s management,” the lawsuit states.

That changed in November, 2020. As the governor was celebrating a re-election victory in the political world, Greensill began to recognize its own crisis in the financial world. The Justice lawsuit contends the finance company started trying to demand additional fees, moved to secure repayment of already-existing borrowings and demanded accelerated repayment outstanding debt.

On Dec. 1, 2020, a Tuesday when the governor announced positive state revenue figures, another representative of Greensill Capital,  Randolph “Dolph” Habeck met with the Justices in White Sulphur Springs and demanded payment of all obligations by July 2021.

Pressure continued into early 2021.

This past Feb. 9 — the day prior to the governor’s annual State of the State address — the Justices learned for the first time that Greensill Capital was deeply obligated to yet another international financial services company, Credit Suisse, according to the lawsuit.

Hartley-Urquhart “urgently demanded” Bluestone pay off even more debt, this time to funds managed by Credit Suisse.  “JCJ III refused,” the lawsuit states, referring to Jay Justice, “stating that he had no idea of Credit Suisse’s involvement or how any transaction between Bluestone and Greensill Capital implicated Credit Suiss.”

On Feb. 20, a Saturday, Hartley-Urquhart again traveled to White Sulphur Springs to meet with Jay and Jim Justice and demanded Bluestone pay $300 million by the end of the third quarter.

Less than a week later, Feb. 26, Hartley-Urquhart demanded repayment of $850 million by the end of the third quarter.

On March 1, Jay Justice received a phone call again from Hartley-Urquhart. Greensill had collapsed. 

A week later, Greensill filed for bankruptcy, triggering a tsunami of repercussions in the international financial world.

Credit Suisse, which managed investment funds that bought loans bundled by Greensill, is now pressing to recover lost investments and has has named Justice’s Bluestone Resources as one of three major borrowers from the Greensill funds.

The Justice lawsuit says vendors, suppliers, customers, and bonding companies reached out immediately to express serious concern about the impact Greensill Capital’s demise will have on Bluestone’s liquidity and cash flow.

Justice, far from the personal trust he declared for Worth Carter, now describes the companies that loaned his businesses millions of dollars with disdain.

And the governor acts hurt that the multi-million dollar financial deals that used to be sealed with a handshake, with details to follow, are now far more complicated and treacherous.

“The Greensill thing, I keep going back to this. There can’t be a worse actor,” West Virginia’s governor said at a state briefing this month.

“When it really boiled right down to it, we had no clue — no clue in the world. And all of a sudden they walked in out of nowhere and they’re bankrupt in 48 hours. What they’ve done is awful to a lot, a lot, a lot of people. And us having no idea, no idea whatsoever.”

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Appalachian Power honored for winter weather response

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An organization representing electric companies recognized Appalachian Power this week for its power restoration efforts following winter weather earlier this year.

The Edison Electric Institute said Appalachian Power is this year’s recipient of the Emergency Response Award, which recognizes a utility company’s efforts to restore electricity and provide assistance.

Appalachian Power was selected following an international nomination process.

Nearly 140,000 Appalachian Power customers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia lost electricity services following winter weather in February, in which ice and snow created additional problems for workers. Appalachian Power sent nearly 2,500 workers from several states to areas without power as part of restoration efforts.

“When damaging storms strike our employees are laser focused on getting power restored safely and efficiently, and that certainly was the case following the February ice storms,” said Aaron Walker, Appalachian Power’s vice president of distribution region operations.

“We greatly appreciate our crews and those who came from near and far to assist, we appreciate the kindness and words of support of our customers as we worked, and we appreciate EEI for recognizing our effort.”

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