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Nobody hurt in plant explosion in Kanawha County

BELLE, W.Va. — Officials are investigating the cause of a morning explosion at a Kanawha County chemical plant.

The explosion, according to emergency officials, happened in a furnace in the Kureha Unit of the Chemours Plant at Belle.

“They’re down for maintenance and were trouble shooting a furnace and had an explosion,” said C.W. Signman Kanawha County Director of Emergency Management.

Nobody was injured and no chemicals were involved in the incident. It’s also unclear if the furnace was used to heat the building or used to heat a product produced in the plant. An investigation into the explosion is underway.

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MetroNews This Morning 7-28-21

New guidelines from the CDC look to start requiring masks again, Governor Jim Justice says he’s not near calling for that but does encourage more people to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, more financial problems for the Governor’s personal business empire. The embattled President of West Virginia State makes changes to her leadership team. The first public hearing on redistricting happened last night in Winfield. In Sports, Texas and Oklahoma formerly seek admittance to the Southeastern Conference. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 7-28-21” on Spreaker.

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First hearing on redistricting held in Putnam County

WINFIELD, W.Va. — West Virginia legislators on Tuesday held the first public hearing about redistricting, in which lawmakers heard from residents about their concerns regarding the current districts.

The hearing at the Putnam County Judicial Building marked the start of a series of in-person hearings scheduled to take place across the state. The Joint Committee on Redistricting is responsible for using U.S. Census data for establishing new districts for state and federal offices.

While Tuesday’s event only attracted 10 speakers, the group was adamant about their opposition toward dividing the county into several districts.

“Pretty much, everybody said the same thing,” Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said. “That Putnam County was really gerrymandered up and is really cut up. You’ve got delegates representing it that live in Lincoln County and Logan County, and they want more representation.”

Putnam County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Ben Barkey said lawmakers should consider districts to create as many districts with one delegate per county as possible.

“I think it’s been a huge problem,” he said. “Candidates from outside of the county have to represent our county. Many of our folks don’t know who their representative is.”

Lawmakers are still waiting for U.S. Census data to draw new legislative districts. Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, said the committee will be rushing to ensure the new map is ready at least one year before the 2022 election.

“It’s going to be a challenge for anyone that’s wanting to run for office,” he added. “They got to make a quick decision on whether they want to relocate somewhere to be in that district, or whether they are going to run or not.”

The next public hearing will take place Thursday at the Chief Logan Lodge Hotel Conference Center in Logan. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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WVU’s Deskins discusses pending Viatris facility closure

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With the closure process of the Viatris facility in Morgantown slated to begin Saturday, a leader with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research says the planned action shows the importance of economic diversity.

Viatris, a company formed following the merger of Mylan Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer subsidiary Upjohn, will close the plant as part of an international business plan. Around 1,400 workers at the Morgantown facility will lose their jobs as a result of the action.

John Deskins (File)

John Deskins, the director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said West Virginia has struggled with low labor participation rates and an image issue.

“We already had plenty of challenges to begin with,” he said. “We already had plenty of things we need to do to improve our economic prosperity, so this is a step in the wrong direction.”

Deskins added the state has to take steps to make the region more attractive to potential businesses, which will make West Virginia more resilient to economic changes.

“If this loss were to happen in some of the areas that are very small and very rural, it could take decades to recover,” he mentioned.

Mike Puskar and Don Panoz founded Mylan Pharmaceuticals in 1961, and the Morgantown facility opened four years later with a focus on manufacturing various supplements and generic medications.

Johanna Puskar, Mike Puskar’s father, said the corporation’s culture changed after her father stepped down in October 2009.

“The ones that knew my dad and worked for my dad, I feel really sorry for them because they have gone through Hell. They’ve been ripped off,” she said. “For the employees that did not work for my dad, I hope people tell them the stories about my dad.”

Lawmakers have petitioned federal officials about keeping the facility open. State legislatures approved resolutions during this year’s regular legislative session asking Gov. Jim Justice and congressional delegates to seek another operator or investor.

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Nearly 3 dozen people indicted for multi-state drug trafficking conspiracy

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Authorities arrested multiple people Tuesday after previously being indicted for a multi-state drug trafficking conspiracy.

Multiple local, state and federal agencies collaborated on the investigation, in which 34 people from West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the Dominican Republican have been indicted for an operation that included large amounts of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine base and cocaine hydrochloride. The shipments went from Hagerstown, Maryland to Berkeley County between August 2020 and June 2021.

Luna Mota, the owner of Top 3 Sources in Hagerstown, Maryland, allegedly used her business for having and selling controlled substances.

The U.S. Attorneys Office for the Northern District of West Virginia released a list of people who face charges:

— Lenin Erasmo Luna Mota, 48, of Hagerstown, Maryland and the Dominican Republic.
— Juan Manuel De La Rosa-Tejeda, 35, of Hagerstown, Maryland and the Dominican Republic.
— Daniel Inoa-Rodriguez, 21, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Shawn Gorsira, 50, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Ana Ercilia Luna, 36, of Hagerstown, Maryland and the Dominican Republic.
— Stephany Rodriguez, 32, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Dominick Mickens, 38, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Jackie Devon Thompson, 41, of Frederick, Maryland.
— Tyrone Lewis, 42, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Alan Clark Tolliver, 41, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Miguel Angel Santiago Caraballo, 30, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
— Carl Lomax Wynn, 56, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Marcus Deon Longus, 27, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Thomas Moore, 38, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Samuel Rose, 48, of Martinsburg.
— Deondre Trayham, 32, of Martinsburg.
— Branden Watson, 38, of Martinsburg.
— Caleb Sinclair, 35, of Martinsburg.
— Destiny Dabbs, 29, of Martinsburg.
— Felicia Johnson, 34, of Martinsburg.
— Brian C. Dixon, 49, of Martinsburg.
— Christina Anders, 25, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Edwin Orrillio, 34, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Paul David Fairburn, 26, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Edson Velasquez-Lopez, 50, of Martinsburg.
— Chelsea Nicole Pinkcett, 33, of Martinsburg.
— Daniel Hardy, 33, of Martinsburg.
— Eliseo Rozas, 43, of Berkeley Springs.
— Ron Bowers, 52, of Martinsburg.
— Angela Dawn Gregory, 47, of Martinsburg.
— Demitre McCoy White, 40, of Martinsburg.
— Devron Jerel Brown, 33, of Martinsburg.
— Lester Luna, 27, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Carlos M. Nunez-Arias, 51, of Hagerstown, Maryland.

The indictment also includes items requested for forfeitures, such as more than $400,000 in cash, a .22-caliber pistol, ammunition and six vehicles.

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U.S. Senate deal provides hope of National Guard reimbursement in time for training

The U.S. Senate has hatched a deal to reimburse the National Guard — including in West Virginia — for the cost of pitching in to protect the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 mob attack.

General Bill Crane

Brig. Gen. William Crane of the West Virginia National Guard today said he is enthusiastic that a deal could be reached. A big remaining question is whether the funding is assured in time to proceed with Guard training in August. Without it, there was significant doubt that the funding would allow the coming month’s training.

The deal was announced Tuesday by U.S. Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in cooperation with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

The $2.1 billion proposal also would secure funds for Capitol Police, more pandemic resources and increase support for Afghan refugees.

“We have the responsibility to take care of the Capitol Police in the wake of their incredible service on January 6th, and to reimburse our National Guard for costs incurred protecting the Capitol,” Leahy stated.

Both the Senate and the House will have to pass the measure by the end of the week to assure upcoming National Guard training across the country won’t be disrupted. The National Guard considers August 1 the deadline to assure the upcoming training can still happen.

Across the nation, the National Guard has said, the uncompensated expense for that duty amounts to $521 million. West Virginia’s share would be almost $6 million.

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he supports the proposal.

“In the days, weeks and months following the January 6th attack, our brave servicemembers protected the United States Capitol with integrity and honor. More than 475 West Virginia National Guardsmen and women served alongside servicemembers from every state, protecting our Capitol and democracy when we needed it most,” stated Manchin, D-W.Va.

“We must ensure our National Guardsmen and women are able to continue their training and drills, which is in jeopardy if we fail to reimburse them for their service after the January 6th attacks. This funding package is essential to the safety and security of our nation, and I am pleased my bipartisan colleagues came to a reasonable agreement to fund these priorities.”

Shelley Moore Capito

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, also a member of the Appropriations Committee, has also expressed support for supplemental appropriation to cover the National Guard and the Capitol Police.

“I’m very much in support of this,” Capito, R-W.Va., said during a news briefing this month. “I think we need to take care of our Capitol Police and our National Guard.”

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3 people in custody after Charleston shooting, pursuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three people face charges following a traffic stop Tuesday in Charleston, in which one man attempted to escape police on foot and two others escaped authorities.

Joseph Scott Larch, 38, of Charleston and 20-year-old James Evans of Elkview were taken to a hospital for treatment following their interactions with police. Kanawha County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Brandon Bandy, 26, of Elkview after the incident.

According to Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt, police officers pulled over a vehicle without a visible license plate near Court Street around 2:30 p.m. Four people were in the car at the time.

While officers were conducting a vehicle information check and checking for possible warrants, Larch ran away from officers. As officers pursued Larch on foot, he shot at officers with a firearm. The officers fired their guns at Larch and struck him multiple times. Two police officers treated Larch at the scene and called for paramedics.

“That speaks volumes of the character of the Charleston Police Department,” Hunt said. “To just have someone try to take your life and now you got to change gears and do the best you can to save theirs.”

Hunt said Larch is in critical condition. He also noted the man has a criminal history with the city of Charleston.

During the gunfire, Evans fled the scene with the vehicle. Officers located the car on West Side Hill and pursued Evans before he crashed in the 900 block of Valley Drive. Hunt said Evans had crash-related injuries.

Bandy ran from the scene as officers were chasing Larch. The Kanawha County Sheriff Office informed Charleston police of deputies arresting Bandy in the Jordan Creek area.

Larch faces charges of attempted murder and wanton endangerment, while Evans has been charged with fleeing with reckless indifference. Hunt noted Evans was also wanted on federal charges.

Bandy had misdemeanor capiases for driving under the influence and possessing a controlled substance without a prescription. He will also be charged for fleeing authorities.

No police officers were injured.

Hunt said the fourth person cooperated with authorities. Their name has not been released.

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Long’s first experience as coach in TBT helps him take preparation to ‘next level’

Before he ever coached a game in The Basketball Tournament, James Long said he would be better off as a result of the experience.

Long, two seasons into his tenure as men’s basketball head coach at WVU Tech, reiterated that stance after helping guide Best Virginia to two wins in TBT. Although the West Virginia University alumni team bowed out last week with a loss to Team 23, Long was grateful for the opportunity to coach a team full of professional players over three games in five days, along with two weeks worth of practices leading up to the event.

“I’ve always been a prepared person, but I realize that there’s another level to it,” Long said. “When you’re planning a practice, how in depth can you go getting ready for possible questions, getting ready for teaching points to certain people and just thinking ahead? This helped me take my preparation to the next level and also my confidence as a coach.

“How you’re portraying things and how you’re saying things to your team is really important. When you’re a coach and you know you’ve worked hard, you have to go own it when you’re talking to your team and be sure of it, but also be willing to change if a change is necessary.”

Long was in a unique position as Best Virginia’s head coach. A Charleston native, Long worked with a roster full of past teammates during their playing days at WVU: Teyvon Myers, Tarik Phillip, Logan Routt, Chase Harler, Nathan Adrian, Jonathan Holton and Juwan Staten. Another past teammate of Long’s, Sagaba Konate, practiced with Best Virginia and played in both of the team’s exhibitions, but did not play in TBT.

There was also a trio of players — Alex Ruoff, Kevin Jones and John Flowers —  that played at WVU before Long arrived on campus, along with former Fairmont States star Jamel Morris, a late addition to Best Virginia.

Long was assisted by former WVU standout Da’Sean Butler, Morgantown High boys coach Dave Tallman and George Wilmore, an assistant at WVU Tech.

“When you’re playing for a million dollars, it says a lot that they would choose us as their coaching staff,” Long said. “It was great for us. It was a lot. Ten days to prepare, guys in and out and then you’re here and have three games in five days, so you just kind of put your head down and work.”

With virtually no film of the opposition to go off of ahead of the TBT opener, coaching staffs and teams alike are somewhat in the dark when it comes to figuring out a specific game plan.

Additionally, Long was responsible for figuring out the team’s rotation and what lineups worked best. With the Elam Ending adding intrigue and strategy to end-of-game situations, another element came into play.

“James knows his Xs and Os and he knows a lot about the game,” Flowers said. “We all told him don’t be afraid to coach us and tell us exactly what we need to hear. It’s a learning process for him as well, but I was impressed with how he handled day-to-day situations. I know I stressed him out a lot as general manager, so I’m impressed.”

Long has enjoyed success in his first two seasons with the Golden Bears, who are 36-15 under his watch. WVU Tech qualified for the 2020 NAIA National Tournament before the pandemic canceled it. The Golden Bears did so again in 2021, in addition to winning the River States Conference Championship.

Long came to WVU Tech after two seasons as West Virginia’s assistant director of basketball operations and video coordinator, which followed his playing days as a Mountaineer after transferring from Wofford.

“James is not the most athletic, not the most skilled, but he came in with a different mindset to be able to compete with Division I athletes as a walk-on,” Phillip said. “His mind and prep wise what we have to do for games, is really good. Age has nothing to do with it. His work ethic is even better.”

Perhaps Long returns next year to guide Best Virginia in TBT, though commitments from coaches and players far in advance of the event are rare.

For now, he’s plenty thankful for what his first TBT experience brought.

“You’re lucky a lot of times if you see one or two teammates in a summer and we got to see each other all again and compete together in Charleston with phenomenal Mountaineer fans,” Long said. “Regardless of (the ending), it doesn’t take away from how special this experience was.”

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Elliott talks ongoing, future construction in Wheeling and COVID-19 response during State of City address

WHEELING, W.Va. — Infrastructure and community response to the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage during Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott’s State of the City address in the ‘Friendly City’ on Tuesday.

Elliott addressed the large crowd at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in his first State of the City since being reelected last year, as this address had been pushed back from February due to COVID-19.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott

He told the crowd to be patient when it comes to “both public and private investment in our community at levels equally unseen in the past 100 years,” when it comes to construction. None is more visible than the three-year, $215 million highway project by the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) that Elliott said is the largest single highway project in West Virginia in terms of both scope and cost.

The project is currently in year two and has shut down parts of Interstate-70 eastbound in parts of the city to repair and replace bridges. When complete, the city will have 26 bridges on the interstate throughout Ohio County that will either be fully renovated or replaced.

Elliott then mentioned two other DOH projects happening in the coming months including a roughly $35 million investment into the streetscape in Downtown Wheeling. Elliott said the project will span State Route 2 Downtown consisting: Main from 9th to 16th; Market from 10th to 16th; 10th from Main to Market; 16th from Main to Eoff; Eoff from 16th to 18th; and Chapline from 16th to 18th. It will also include the City-owned streets of 12th and 14th between Main and Market, the mayor said in his speech.

According to Elliott, each street in question will receive new sidewalks, light signals, crosswalks, trees, curb bump-outs to enhance the pedestrian experience, and new stormwater retention capabilities, including bioswales.

The third DOH project that Elliott mentioned during his speech was the rehabilitation of the historic Suspension Bridge, which has been closed to vehicular traffic since September 2019. According to the mayor, the DOH has requested that bids for this project be submitted by August 10 of this year.

“This project is estimated to be between $8 and $15 million and will ensure the structural integrity of this historic bridge while adding decorative lights. Whether the bridge will re-open to traffic remains an open question about which there will be many conversations in the months and years ahead,” Elliott said.

VIEW: The text of the address

The city also has several new major construction projects that are queued up and ready to go, Elliott said. One project planned is a multi-story parking structure to be located upon the site of the former Chase Bank Building at 11th and Market Streets. The new structure will also house roughly 9,500 square feet of 1st-floor retail space fronting both 11th and Market Streets.

Elliott said work is well underway on the $30 million rehabilitation of the former Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Building into a loft apartment complex. He said it is crucial to see downtown’s tallest building be restored to productive use after a decade of vacancy.

“Losing a structure like this would have been unforgivable, and it gives me great joy to see Coon Restoration employees entering and exiting it each day as part of an 18-month rehabilitation project,” Elliott said.

VIEW: Elliott’s bio on city site

He included details of a $6 million transformation of the Valley Professional Center on the former OVMC campus into a new headquarters for the Wheeling Police Department. He expects that to be done in December 2022. The city has also taken to first steps in acquiring property on 17th Street in East Wheeling to house the new $6.4 million headquarters for the Wheeling Fire Department.

At the beginning of 2020, the city established a user fee to help pay for infrastructure projects and fund a public safety building. Employers are required to withhold $2 per week from each employee’s pay.

Elliott said there is no doubt the city’s user fee is paying off.

“Much of the early spending of these funds has been centered around critical road slips in neighborhoods across the city. This was necessary,” he said.

“But going forward, you can expect to see some more visible projects taking shape. Perhaps no more visible will be the replacement of the sidewalk and fencing alongside Wheeling Hill with something safe and attractive. Stay tuned.”

Elliott said much of the city’s future economic development will depend on residents doing their part to end the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest figures from the state Department of Health and Human Resources, 22,428 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ohio County, equaling 54.2% of the population.

He had a message for local residents that have not been vaccinated.

“Those of you who are choosing to remain unvaccinated without special circumstances are relying on something other than the accepted scientific consensus. It is as simple as that,” Elliott said.

“And you are putting our community at risk not only of more COVID-19 deaths but also future shutdowns. Is there anyone here today who wants to see another Governor’s order shutting everything down? I know that I emphatically do not.”

Elliott praised Howard Gamble, Administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department and Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director for work during the pandemic. Elliott also asked for a moment of silence for those lost to COVID-19.

Howard Gamble

“From the inception of the COVID-19 crisis, both Howard and Lou recognized the perilous risks that a community like Wheeling, with its older population, faced from an aggressive airborne virus that attacks the respiratory system. Their considerable training and experience served them well,” Elliott said.

“From the beginning, those of us in public office looked to both Howard and Lou for guidance. Tough decisions were inevitable, but looking back, I believe our community was served very well by these two gentlemen.”

The pair of Vargo and Gamble were not the only individuals honored by Elliott on Tuesday for work in the city. Former city manager, councilman, and Vice Mayor of the City of Wheeling, Mike Nau was given the Gateway Award for contributions to the community.

Reverend and Dr. Michael Linger, the Executive Director of the House of Carpenter, was recognized for the House of Carpenter finishing construction on a new $2.7 million youth center to expand its work with children, youth, and families. Jeff Mauck was recognized for his work on the city’s planning commission for nearly a quarter of a century.

Ellen Gano was the 2021 recipient of the City’s Community Spirit Award. Elliott said Gano committed to playing a part in the ongoing revitalization of Wheeling and founded Volunteer Wheeling, which calls upon area residents to participate in group projects.

Elliott recognized Joe Sparksman and Men of Change. Elliott said Men of Change is a group of 14 African-American men in Wheeling who banded together a little more than a year ago to make a difference by uniting the community instead of tolerating division. Elliott also congratulated Ray Carney for his contributions to his North Wheeling neighborhood

Doug Costain received an ovation for his work in youth baseball in Wheeling. Susie Nelson, the Executive Director of The Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley since 2007, was also an honoree on Tuesday.

Elliott ended the speech with three upcoming initiatives including user fee projects. Another initiative on the table is an Entertainment Endowment Fund that would be funded and managed jointly by the city and the CVB to bring more entertainment acts to Wheeling. The mayor also said the city needs to increase connectivity to the waterfront, as Wheeling sits on the Ohio River.

“While much progress was made in the 1990s with the creation of Heritage Port, the fact of the matter is that we are leaving a lot on the table when it comes to exploiting our waterfront for economic growth,” he said.

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Embattled West Virginia State president makes 2 leadership hires

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — West Virginia State University President Nicole Pride announced a pair of leadership appointments Tuesday, including a new provost, as the university’s board of governors considers a letter from other members of Pride’s leadership team calling for her removal as president.

Nicole Pride

In separate news releases, WVSU said Ericke Cage had been named vice president and chief of staff while Dr. J. Paige Carney is now the school’s new interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Carney has been the dean of WVSU’s College of Professional Studies since 2015 and interim associate provost since last fall. Her appointment is effective immediately.

The release didn’t say what happened to Dr. Sharon Warren Cook who was hired as provost by Pride last November. Cook was one of five members of Pride’s leadership team who signed a letter on July 14 calling for Pride’s removal so an investigation could begin into her presidency.

MORE See letter here

“Condescending and abusive language are common in exchanges with Dr. Pride,” the group wrote in the letter.

And, “Dr. Pride is known for her retaliatory practices.”

Pride was hired last summer and is WVSU’s first woman president.

Dr. J. Paige Carney

In Tuesday’s news release, Carney called Pride “a strong leader who cares deeply about the university.”

Carney said she looked forward to working with Pride and her leadership team.

Cage, according to a separate news release, will serve as “the principal aide and adviser to the president, representing the president to internal and external constituencies, and in collaboration with other members of the president’s executive cabinet, will be responsible for planning, organizing, and guiding the initiatives and activities of the president as they relate to the internal operations and external relationships of the university.”

Pride said Cage “will be a critical member of the university’s leadership team and play a vital role in collaboration with my executive cabinet in leading key initiatives, and implementation of the university’s new strategic plan. His experiences as a leader in both higher education and on Capitol Hill will be invaluable as the university continues to position itself as a leader in meeting the economic and social needs of the state, region, and nation.”

Ericke Cage

Cage has held numerous positions in higher education and government.

Meanwhile, the WVSU BOG is scheduled to meet Friday. The agenda says the meeting is to “address a personnel matter.” The board met in executive session for five hours on July 16 but announced no decisions had been made.

BOG Chairman Chuck Jones previously told the Charleston Gazette-Mail the BOG takes the letter from the leadership team seriously.

“We are inquiring about it. We’re doing an investigation,” Jones told the newspaper.

MetroNews has learned an open faculty forum was held Monday to discuss the “no confidence” letter from the cabinet. The WVSU Faculty Senate may meet later this week.

MetroNews also reached out to WVSU concerning details about Cook’s departure and is still awaiting a response.

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