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Hidden Promise Program Adds Eleven to List of Graduates

GLENVILLE, WV - Eleven Glenville State College Hidden Promise Scholars (HPS) were recognized as graduates of the Hidden Promise program at a ceremony held shortly before the end of the spring semester. The students, Casey Burdette, Tyler Fortney, Samantha Fulks, Autumn Harkins, Levi Lynch, Quentin Murphy, Ben Neal, Joseph Overbaugh, Bobbie Payne, Ben Stingo, and Allison Taylor, all completed their GSC degrees at the conclusion of the academic year.

GSC President Dr. Peter Barr welcomed the students and congratulated them on their accomplishments. “We acknowledge the hard work and stamina that will entitle your membership in an exclusive and privileged society of college degree attainment. I say ‘exclusive’ because in central West Virginia only one-in-ten residents holds that membership and in the nation barely four-of-ten is a member. I say ‘privileged’ because that degree will entitle added opportunities. Over a lifetime you will earn more, enjoy greater job satisfaction, stay healthier, and live longer - that’s what the data shows. I would hope that the Hidden Promise program has been instrumental in your achievement,” said Barr.

The Free Press WV
May 2016 HPS Graduates: (l-r) Quentin Murphy, Autumn Harkins, Joseph Overbaugh,
Samantha Fulks, Tyler Fortney, Bobbie Payne, Ben Stingo, Allison Taylor, Levi Lynch,
Casey Burdette, and Ben Neal


Following a special dinner in their honor, the students gave brief remarks recalling their times at GSC and in the Hidden Promise program.


Casey Burdette, from Clay, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Studies Education. In his comments he expressed thanks to President and Mrs. Barr and the faculty and staff in GSC’s Education Department. He counted the trip he and other scholars took to Cincinnati as one of his favorite memories of his time in the program. After leaving GSC he plans to teach at a middle or high school and pursue a Master’s Degree.


Tyler Fortney, from Elkins, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. He thanked the faculty and noted that he was a seventh generation graduate from Glenville State College. Fortney counted the many people he had met and the friends that he made through the HPS program as one of his favorite things about being a Hidden Promise Scholar. He plans to attend law school after graduation.


Samantha Fulks, from Millstone, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics Education (5-adult). During her time at GSC she served on the Student Government Association and was president of Chi Beta Phi, the national math and science honor society, where she represented GSC at two national conventions. In her comments at the dinner she recounted her last trip to Myrtle Beach with other members of the Hidden Promise Scholars Program as one of her favorite parts of the program. She also extended thanks to Associate Professors Larry Baker (her uncle) and Paul Peck, her parents, and her sister. After graduation she plans to begin teaching in West Virginia.


Autumn Harkins, from Grantsville, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science. During her college career she was a member of Chi Beta Phi, the national math and science honor society, was vice president of the Behavioral Science Club, and was a mentor for the Hidden Promise Scholars program. She told those in attendance that her favorite part about being in the program were the trips and the opportunity to be a mentor to high school students. She plans to pursue a Master’s in Social Work after graduation.


Levi Lynch, from Creston, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music. During his comments to the attendees of the dinner he thanked the faculty and staff in the Fine Arts Department and counted the cultural trips as his favorite part of the Hidden Promise Scholars program. After graduation he plans to work in the recording industry.


Quentin Murphy, from Mount Zion, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art. While at GSC he worked in the Admissions Office as a Student Ambassador, worked as a Resident Assistant for three years, served as Vice President of the Art Society, was Public Relations Executive for the Student Government Association, and was a member of Pioneers for A Cause among his involvement in other campus activities. He extended his thanks to many campus staff members who helped teach and mentor him. Murphy has accepted a position in the Admissions Office at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi.


Benjamin Neal, from Mount Nebo, West Virginia, graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music Education and Music. In his time at GSC he participated in a variety of ensembles including marching and concert band, concert choir, woodwind ensemble, sax quartet, sax choir, jazz band, jazz combo, chamber singers, and percussion ensemble. He was also secretary for GSC’s chapter of the National Association for Music Education for two years. In his comments he thanked President and Mrs. Barr for welcoming the students to their home for pizza parties and said his favorite thing about the Hidden Promise Program were the end-of-year trips. Neal also thanked Assistant Professors Lloyd Bone and Teresa Dody. He plans on teaching in West Virginia for a few years and then continuing his education.


Joseph Overbaugh, from Mount Zion, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in General Science Education and Chemistry. During his time at GSC, he was a member of Chi Beta Phi, the American Chemical Society, and the Student Government Association. He explained to those in attendance how he enjoyed getting to graduate with three of his friends from Calhoun County. Overbaugh plans to pursue a career in science education after graduation.


Bobbie Payne, from Webster Springs, West Virginia, graduated with a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree. She worked as a summer camp counselor for the Hidden Promise Scholars Program and served as President of the Behavioral Science Club during her time at GSC. At the dinner she recalled fond memories of the special trips that she and the other scholars took. After graduation she plans on moving, exploring more job opportunities, and starting the next chapter of her life.


Ben Stingo, from Buckhannon, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education. During his college career, Stingo was a member of many musical ensembles, his favorite being the GSC Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble. As a Hidden Promise Scholar, he enjoyed the trip to Myrtle Beach during his junior year. After graduation he plans to pursue a master’s in trombone performance and then a doctorate. He hopes to teach trombone at a college level or to teach music in a public school.


Allison Taylor, from Bickmore, West Virginia, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science. During her time at GSC she served as Student Government President and was secretary of the Art Club. She also participated in the ROTC program. Taylor said her favorite part of the program were the cultural trips, the pizza parties, and making many new friends. She now plans to attend Marshall University and obtain a Ph.D. in psychology.


In addition to accepting a plaque and commemorative class ring, the new graduates also inscribed the Hidden Promise Book. In signing the volume, graduates commit to ‘always accepting the obligations and the challenges of guiding the young to education, knowledge, and love of the human spirit; to demonstrate respect for all people, and cultivate the trained, yet free, minds appropriate to sustaining and advancing a democratic way of life; and to striving to become knowledgeable, ethical, caring citizens who embody the qualities that the Hidden Promise program fosters.’ The students became official GSC graduates on Saturday, May 7 after GSC’s Commencement Ceremony.

The Hidden Promise Scholars program is a component of GSC’s Hidden Promise Consortium. The program is an alliance between Glenville State College and county school districts throughout West Virginia and in Ohio and Connecticut aimed at improving communication between higher education and teachers, staff, and students in grades eight through 12. Other goals include increasing the number of high school and college graduates as well as aligning the curricula of K-12 and higher education.

Students are often inducted into the program while still in high school after being chosen by their school counselors, teachers, and principals. The scholars mentor with current college students and take part in campus visits and annual summer camps. Upon high school graduation, HPS students who opt to attend GSC receive a $1,000 scholarship which is renewable annually throughout their enrollment as a full-time student.

For more information on the GSC Hidden Promise Scholars Program, contact Program Director Teresa Sterns at or 304.462.6100.

West Virginia Ranks Fourth in the Nation in FAFSA Completion Rates

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV – According to a 0recent announcement from the National College Access Network (NCAN), West Virginia is one of only four states to see gains in Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates so far this year. And the state ranks fourth overall nationally in FAFSA completion — jumping up from 10th place last year. 

Thirty-seven high schools in West Virginia met or exceeded the state’s spring benchmark for increasing the number of 12th graders who complete the FAFSA, the primary application for state and federal financial aid for college. In January, the College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV) set a goal of ensuring that 60 percent of West Virginia high school seniors complete the form by September 1. As of May 6 (the most recent date for which data is available), 52 percent of West Virginia 12th graders had completed a FAFSA. 

“Completing the FAFSA is one of the most important steps in pursuing higher education,” Brian Weingart, Senior Director for Financial Aid at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission) and West Virginia Community and Technical College System (WVCTCS), said. “By completing this one form, students can be considered to receive thousands of dollars in grants — that’s ‘free money’ that you don’t have to pay back.”

Nationally, researchers and policy leaders have recognized that increasing the number of students who complete the FAFSA is a proven strategy for increasing college-going rates, as cost and affordability are leading factors influencing students’ decisions to pursue postsecondary education. 

“Applying for financial aid can be a little overwhelming and sometimes students simply don’t realize they could qualify for aid,” Dr. Adam Green, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the Commission, said. “Submitting the FAFSA and receiving a financial aid award letter can be a game changer — suddenly college doesn’t seem so far out of reach.” 

To ensure more students reach this crucial milestone, the Commission, WVCTCS, and college and university partners across the state have been working with high school counselors and administrators and community partners to increase awareness of the FAFSA and help students and families complete the form.

Students can complete the FAFSA any time after January 01 in the year they intend to go to college. Filing the FAFSA allows students to be considered for the Federal Pell Grant, which this year provided students with up to $5,815 to cover the cost of tuition and other education expenses. Students who filed the form before April 15 will also be considered for up to $2,700 through the West Virginia Higher Education Grant Program. Additionally, completing the FAFSA is a requirement of applying for state scholarship programs, including the PROMISE Scholarship. More information about these programs and other financial aid opportunities is available at cfwv.com, the state’s free college-planning website.  

The following high schools met or exceeded West Virginia’s 2016 FAFSA completion spring benchmark of ensuring 55 percent of students complete a FAFSA by April 15:

  • Bishop Donahue Memorial High School
  • Bluefield High School
  • Bridgeport High School
  • Cameron High School
  • Cross Lanes Christian School
  • East Hardy High School
  • Frankfort High School
  • George Washington High School
  • Greenbrier East High School
  • Hedgesville High School
  • Hundred High School
  • Hurricane High School
  • Jefferson High School
  • Keyser High School
  • Magnolia High School
  • Mingo Central High School
  • Nicholas County High School
  • Paden City High School
  • Paw Paw High School
  • Pendleton County High School
  • Petersburg High School
  • Pocahontas County High School
  • Ravenswood High School
  • Ripley High School
  • Ritchie County High School
  • Roane County High School
  • Sissonville High School
  • Tug Valley High School
  • Tyler Consolidated High School
  • University High School
  • Valley High School – Fayette County
  • Wahama High School
  • Washington High School
  • Webster County High School
  • Williamstown High School
  • Winfield High School
  • Wirt County High School 

A complete list of FAFSA completion rates by high school is available at www.cfwvconnect.com/financial-aid-outreach .

CFWV is a college- and career-planning outreach initiative led by the Commission in collaboration with WVCTCS, the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts. 

G-ICYMI™: 50 Years Ago, Team From Tiny Normantown High Set Still-Standing International Record

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Big accomplishments can come from small high schools, as Homer Hickam and his Rocket Boys from Big Creek High School in War, McDowell County, proved in winning the National Science Fair in 1960.

As alumni from Normantown High School, a like-sized, also-defunct school in Gilmer County at the other end of the state from War, gather for the Class of 1966’s 50th reunion on Saturday, some will likely remember hearing their parents talk about the school’s David versus Goliath championship season of 1945. The one when their 150-person student body produced a basketball team that captured the all-class state championship with a 50-49 win over Logan.

But in 1966, the tiny West Virginia high school produced a team that took top honors at an international competition in an event a bit slower-paced and lower-profile than basketball. In the process of doing so, the Normantown High team racked up a score that remains unbeaten today.

The event was the International Land and Range Judging Contest, held near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There, contestants determine soil types and their water absorbing properties, estimate slope and erosion potentials, and determine what crops, mechanical treatments and fertilizer applications are most appropriate for farming the land.

The Free Press WV
Normantown High School FFA members Kenneth Lee Greenlief (from left), Kelley Sponaugle, Brock Stewart and
Wesley Dobbins flank their coach and vo-ag teacher Everett “Casey” Mason after winning
the International Land and Range Judging contest in Oklahoma in 1966, posting a score that remains unbeaten today.


Contestants also pick out the best home site on the property being judged, identify rangeland plants,and determine how to best manage the rangeland for wildlife or livestock.

“Looking back, it seems like a very short time ago that we were taking this trip to Oklahoma City,” said Kelley Sponaugle, one of four members of Normantown High’s championship Future Farmers of America land judging team. “The one vivid memory is of the five of us (including FFA adviser and vo-ag teacher Everett “Casey” Mason) and our luggage packed in a Ford Falcon for two days each way.

“At that time it was my longest trip from Cedarville. I was amazed at the size of our country and the vast size of the cornfields of the Midwest.”

Mason, who coached the land judging team, “was a wonderful teacher,” recalled teammate Wesley Dobbins. “Through pure and simple hard, honest work, which he demanded, he was very successful in bringing the Normantown High School FFA chapter much recognition.”

“Being his student is without a doubt the greatest educational experience in my life,” Sponaugle said. “He truly believed success could be found through hard work and doing it right. Because of his encouragement, we believed we could win.”

Sponaugle said Mason assembled a support team that included Soil Conservation Service staffers Junior Kennedy and Woodrow Beverage, who helped provide the Normantown FFA team with enhanced soil and conservation knowledge, and George Sharpe, a soils specialist with the WVU Extension Service, who made several trips to Gilmer County to help train the students and met the team in Oklahoma City to help its members get acquainted with the local terrain.

Dobbins, Sponaugle and teammates Kenneth Greenlief and Brock Stewart won the state land judging competition in the spring of 1965 to qualify for the trip to Oklahoma City the following spring.

“We were four country boys who had never been far from home,” Dobbins said. “As we traveled, we kept seeing on the breakfast menu ‘hash browns.’ None of the four of us knew what they were. One morning, we decided to take a chance and order them. To our surprise, we got fried potatoes!”

“We arrived in Oklahoma City a couple days early,” Sponaugle recalled. “Mr. Mason had arranged for us to practice at a local ranch and at the Oklahoma State University farms. We spent from daylight to dark looking at various soils in the area and going over study materials. Mr. Mason was a strong believer in work, so that’s what we did.

“But we did go to a movie, Marilyn Monroe in ‘Some Like it Hot.’ That was my first trip to an indoor movie theater. The movie would probably be rated G or PG by today’s standards, but we thought it was really hot and sexy.”

The contest took place in a short grass prairie outside of Oklahoma City.

“The area had several large ravine-type gullies, and the soils there developed in windblown materials and were very erosive,” Sponaugle recalled. “After the contest, the judges reviewed the fields with us. I remember telling Mr. Mason and Dr. Sharpe that I thought I had made a perfect score on all four fields. They both thought I was crazy, since nobody had come close to that in the 15-year history of the contest.”

Teammate Brock Stewart also believed he had aced the contest, according to Sponaugle.

“At the banquet that night, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat,” he said. “The anticipation was intense.”

The combined individual scores of the top three team members determined the team winners. The awards announcement began by naming the 10 highest-scoring individual land judges, starting with the 10th place finalist.

“By the time they got down to No. 3, none of us had been called and I thought we had blown it,” Sponaugle recounted. “Then they announced Kenny Lee Greenlief from Normantown, West Virginia, at No. 3, with a score of 237 points, and finally, tied for individual high score, Brock Stewart and Kelley Sponaugle from Normantown with 240 points,” both perfect scores, for the first time in contest history.

While other West Virginia FFA teams have since won the event — most recently, Tyler County High in 2011 and 2013 — the Normantown team was the first to score more than 700 points in the history of the contest, and the team score of 717 points out of a possible 720 remains the highest score in contest history.

Sponaugle went on to compete on WVU’s soil judging team and pursued a career in soil science, recently retiring as assistant state conservationist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Greenlief, who earned a master’s degree in education administration at WVU and went on to become executive vice president and treasurer of Waco Oil & Gas, died in 2006.

Dobbins is a retired Braxton County elementary school principal and Stewart pursued a career in the natural gas business.

The team’s victory at Oklahoma City 50 years ago “is a great example of a high school in West Virginia with fewer than 200 students doing something outstanding,” said Dennis Bennett of Craigsville, president of Normantown High School Alumni Association.

Normantown High graduated its last class of seniors in 1968 and was converted into Normantown Elementary School, which in turn will be closed at the end of the current school year due to consolidation.

A 50th reunion celebration for the high school’s Class of 1966 took place last Saturday at the school.

~~  Rick Steelhammer - Gazette-Mail ~~

05.23.2016
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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Mr Mason was quite a teacher of Landjudging, all three of my children were 4-H National winners also, he will never be forgotten!

By susie kirkpatrick  on  05.23.2016

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Local Author Comes to Glenville for Book Signing - Today

The Free Press WV

A local man seems to have found a new calling, writing. Growing up and spending his whole life living in the Flatwoods area, the town is buzzing about his new book, The Janitor.

The Janitor, written by Tim Cogar, is easy to read, even for those that don’t read much.  It’s fast paced enough to keep people that don’t like to read, wanting to start the next chapter.

It’s a simple fiction book with a slant toward the Christian side, but don’t let that fool you, as most everybody will identify with the books characters.

The story is set in a small town, much like many in central West Virginia, and follows a small town preacher and some of his colorful members. 

Tim will be at the Gil Co Faith Pharmacy on Monday, May 23rd from 3 to 5 PM to talk with people and sign books.

For more information go to his website:  www.timcogar.com.

Taking Action to Keep Our Kids Tobacco-Free

Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., taking almost half a million lives every year. Every death caused by tobacco is preventable. Progress has been made but new threats to our nation’s health have emerged, so we’re taking the next logical step to protect our kids from the dangers of tobacco.

In 2009, a bipartisan Congressional act entrusted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products in order to protect public health. Last week, we finalized a rule that extends FDA authority to regulate ALL tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, hookah, and cigars. Under federal law, retailers will no longer be able to sell e-cigarettes, cigars, or other covered tobacco products to anyone under age 18 and all tobacco sales to those 26 and under will require a photo ID. Going forward, the FDA will be able to review and regulate new tobacco products before they hit store shelves.

Watch Secretary Burwell talk about this historic step that will help us improve public health and protect future generations from the dangers of tobacco.

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   Free workshop on Tuesday could help trucker’s avoided failed inspection

CLARKSBURG, WV — Truck drivers, maintenance professionals, and other members of the trucking industry will have a chance at a free crash course in truck inspections ahead of the annual 72-hour Roadcheck Inspection Blitz.

Jan Vineyard with the West Virginia Trucking Association said it’s a chance for anyone in the trucking industry to get a refresher lesson or two on safety inspections.

“What we’re aiming to do at these two workshops at 10 o’clock and 1 o’clock is to provide those safety directors–those maintenance people that work on truck–kind of a preview to see exactly what an inspection looks like,” she said Monday morning on MetroNews “Talkline.”

The blitz will result in more than 45,000 inspections. Around 9,000 of those inspections–or 20 percent–will reveal infractions that could place the truck out of service.

“A lot of safety directors are signed up to come,” she said. “Also some maintenance people. We’re hoping they come. They watch through this. Then they go back and work with their drivers. Because ultimately the driver is in charge of the truck.”

The WVTA and the Public Service Commission will co-host the training at the Meadowbrook Rest Stop located at mile marker 123 on I-79.

“We’re hoping, roughly, we’re going to train 60 people tomorrow,” she said. “And we’re hoping those 60 will go back and do everyone in their shops where they work.”

Vineyard said West Virginia truckers should be ready for the blitz when it begins next month.

“We in West Virginia, our trucking companies, will be prepared for the Safety Blitz,” she said.

Sessions will last between 60 and 90 minutes with time allotted for questions.

Space for the free workshop is limited, and participants are asked to confirm their attendance by e-mailing or by contacting the WVTA office at 304.345.2800.


►   With second lawsuit filed, Fayette Commissioner believes parents tired of waiting for SBA solution

FAYETTEVILLE, WV — Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender, the Fayette County Commission, and two parents in Fayette County are hoping a lawsuit against the State Board of Education and the School Building Authority will spur action in finding a remedy for the crumbling school facilities in the county.

“Our citizens are just simply not willing to step back and hope for a good outcome with the SBA,” Wender said.

The lawsuit, the second one filed by Mountain State Justice on behalf of Fayette Count, will seek to convince a judge that the SBA should fund the previously rejected 2015 Comprehensive Facilities Plan.

Shortly after the new year began, the School Building Authority and Fayette County Superintendent of Schools Terry George began working together to find a solution to the myriad problems facing schools in the region.

Wender said he is hopeful that the outcome of that partnership will bear fruit, but said many in the county aren’t willing to put all of their eggs in one basket.

“How aggressively it will be pursued, I guess, will depend in large part about how confident the folks of Fayette County are about the progress we are making with the SBA,” he said.

Fayette County schools have been under state control for six years, but Wender said the situation has only gotten worse during that time because of an inability to find a solution to the facilities problem. That partially resulted in the relocation of students and the closure of Collins Middle School last year.

“Yes, the state did need to step in when they did and take over our school system,” he said. “But the state has done a very poor job of managing–to say nothing about improving the delivery of education in Fayette County.”

Last summer, the residents of Fayette County rejected a bond issue that would have led to the closure of a number of schools. Shortly after, new superintendent Terry George attempted to come up with a Comprehensive Facilities Plan to propose to the School Building Authority.

The proposal the SBA rejected last year asked for close to $40 million dollars over a three year period and was eventually rejected by the School Building Authority–and not without controversy along the way.

Wender said the losses in the coal industry, high taxes, and a number of other issues have contributed to the economic downturn in Fayette County–just one of the many reasons voters said no to a bond issue last summer.

“[SBA] gave no consideration to the fact that the economic situation in Fayette County is declining and deteriorating rather rapidly,” Wender said.

The SBA and representatives from the schools in Fayette County are currently in a data collection stage and hope to have a plan ready in time for presentation to the full board this Fall. According to Wender, there isn’t a lot of faith among Fayette County parents at the moment.

“Fayette County has been under state control,” Wender said. “We are in our sixth year now. During that time, there have been three state superintendent of schools. The state, of course, hires our superintendent in Fayette County, and we’ve had four superintendents.”

“The delivery of education, test scores have declined over this period of time rapidly,” he said. “And the deterioration of the facilities has declined rather rapidly as well.”

The SBA rejected the Fayette County CFP last year in part because of prohibitive cost, concern over matching funding, and protests from the Meadow Bridge community. Parents there were concerned about not only losing the only high school in the community, but also long travel times students would deal with at a new high school.

A special meeting for the Board of Education will be held Monday, May 23 at 6 PM at Oak Hill High School.


►   Legislative audit on DOH comp time payouts raises concern

CHARLESTON, WV — A legislative audit has raised a red flag on compensation time payouts from the state Division of Highways.

In 2014, the DOH paid over $242,000 in a comp time buyout to nearly 100 of its employees who racked up about 6,200 hours of comp time, but Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said the spending of that state money “wasn’t required by law.”

“We don’t know who is telling the truth here. We don’t know whether DOH was told by the state Auditor that it couldn’t handle comp time or whether DOH is telling us incorrectly that that’s the case,” Allred said.

But state Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox told lawmakers Thursday morning the payouts were legal. He said they were complete after the DOH was told the state’s new wvOASIS payroll system, KRONOS, would not calculate comp time.

Mattox said he talked to a lot of experts in the agency before making the decision.

“Based upon my legal division, business manager and my human resources division, a policy was developed to do away, change the policies so that compensatory time would no longer be allowed,” he said.

Allred said the comp time payments didn’t have to take place.

“This was unnecessary,” he said. “These were people, a lot of them making $80,000, $90,000, $100,000 a year that comp time was not required by federal law to be paid to in the first place.”

The state Auditor indicated no other buyouts by state agencies, to his knowledge, have occurred other than the buyout at DOH.

The legislative auditor’s letter to legislative leaders is below:

Dear Mr. President and Mr. Speaker:

It has recently come to my attention that in 2014 the Division of Highways (DOH) initiated a payout of all DOH employees’ compensatory time.  This resulted in 99 employees being paid a total of $242,778.11.  The top three payouts were for a Highway District Engineer/Manager ($10,678.15); the former Equipment Division Director/Executive Assistant to the Agency Head ($10,056.46); and the Deputy Secretary ($9,596.05).  It must be noted that this is the same former Equipment Division Director that was indicted on 29 federal offenses in 2015.  Along with the compensatory time buyout, DOH policy was modified to eliminate the ability to earn compensatory time in the future.  According to the Secretary of Transportation/Commissioner of Highways: 

…the previous policy was changed in preparation for the wvOASIS payroll implementation. The DOH was advised that the new payroll system, called KRONOS, would not accommodate the earning or use of compensatory time. As a result of the inability of KRONOS to track the earning and use of compensatory time, the DOH policy was changed to eliminate compensatory time entirely.

The assessment of KRONOS’ inability to track compensatory time is incorrect according to the ERP Project Director who oversees wvOasis and KRONOS.  He stated: 

…the KRONOS application is capable of and has been configured to allow for the earning or use of compensatory time.  The wvOASIS application has been configured to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for non-exempt employees and allow for various agency desired flexibilities for FLSA exempt classification employees.

The Director of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance’s Fiscal Office stated that her understanding of how compensatory time is calculated and paid by KRONOS is the same as described by the wvOasis ERP Project Director.  However, since Joint Expenses is not utilizing KRONOS, the Joint Committee has not tested the compensatory time calculations, and our understanding is based solely on information provided by wvOASIS during the various trainingsessions.

Additionally, the design specification for compensatory time was recommended by the WV ERP Steering Committee which includes the Secretary of Transportation or his designee. This design specification is for 1.5 hours of compensatory time for each hour over 40 hours in a workweek for non-exempt employees. Compensatory time for exempt employees will accrue at the rate authorized by the agency and may not exceed 240 or 480 hours depending upon FLSA rules.

Regarding the DOH compensatory buyout, the State Auditor added: 

…any compensatory time buyouts were unnecessary and a discretionary decision made by the agency or agencies, as the new system is fully capable of handling the recording of compensatory time balances earned in other legacy leave systems and accounting for its later usage within wvOASIS HRM/Payroll.

The State Auditor indicated he has no knowledge of buyouts by state agencies other than the DOH buyout.  Thus, my office also concludes that the $242,778 payout of DOH employees was an unnecessary expense by the Division of Highways.  Attached to this letter is the full correspondence from the Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Transportation, the wvOasis ERP Director, and the State Auditor. 

Sincerely,

Aaron Allred


►   New study calls into question long-term economic benefits of Mountain Valley Pipeline

A study commissioned by community groups in eight counties in West Virginia and Virginia finds significant costs to local economies in the EQT Mountain Valley Pipeline construction project that they feel the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) overlooked.

Dr. Spencer Phillips, principal at Key-Log Economics, was one of seven presenters who felt the study showed significant cost to economic vitality of the communities in the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project.

“FERC’s approval process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline is really a rigged game economically because the agency’s procedures themselves as well as their track record mean that they ignore some really important economic costs to people in communities along the path of interstate natural gas transmission lines,” Phillips said in a tele-conference Wednesday morning.

An economic analysis by FTI Consulting, based on information provided by EQT, shows that the pipeline project could create between 4200 and 4500 direct and indirect jobs at it’s peak, bring in $25.8 million in state and local tax on production and imports, and create over $400 million in employee compensation.

Dr. Phillips said, contrary to a report by real estate valuation service Integra Realty Resources, property value loss is likely.

“We estimate a one-time loss in property value of between 42 and 53 million dollars,” he said. “That’s for people in the right of way and people in the evacuation zone, which is about 1.4 miles wide for a pipeline of this size and operated at the pressure that’s expected.”

Leslee McCarty of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association believes that this may have had an impact on one of her neighbors in the Greenbrier County area.

“He had had a piece of property up for sale, and they were about to close on it, but when the pipeline specter appeared he had to disclose that and he lost the sale of his property,” McCarty said. “I wonder how many times that has happened. It’s hard to quantify that.”

McCarty believes that the pipeline would disrupt some of Greenbrier County’s most valuable assets: tourism, travel, and small business.

“If you look at the summary for Greenbrier County, and speaking about what’s important economically in Greenbrier County, we see that entrepreneurs and small business owners are a large part of what’s driving the economy as well as travel and tourism,” she said.

McCarty also believes that West Virginia would be better off seeking cleaner, renewable energy instead of relying on additional fossil fuel production.

“Coal is on it’s way out, supposedly,” she said. “Supposedly natural gas is some bridge to the future, but these are both fossil fuels. These pipelines–I think of them as enablers–to keep us on the drip of fossil fuels.”

Dr. Phillips claims that net losses in economic vitality could range up to $114 million per year–and eventually cumulatively reach billions of dollars of losses for local area communities.

“FERC really needs to consider when it is determining whether or not there is any net public benefit that could stem from the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” he said.

The Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) coalition of community groups commissioned this independent research.

In West Virginia, the pipeline would run through the counties of Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Summers, and Monroe.

Construction is set to begin in December.

EQT released the following statement in response to the study.

“We remain confident that the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project will bring significant and meaningful benefits to counties along its route in both Virginia and West Virginia. A broad, bipartisan coalition of public officials, residents, companies, and pro-business groups support the Mountain Valley Pipeline because of its significant economic benefits. FTI Consulting, a highly regarded international consulting firm, has estimated the project will generate thousands of jobs during construction, lifting local and regional economies, and the project will provide local and state governments with millions in additional annual tax revenue. Similar to a study released by this same group last year, we recognize that opponents of the MVP project have been challenging the results of our economic benefits analysis since its initial release in December 2014; therefore, the findings that are outlined in a critique that was funded by opponents are to be expected.

Lastly, it is important to note that the 2014 FTI studies were reviewed by independent economists in Virginia and West Virginia; and the IMPLAN model utilized for MVP’s analysis is widely recognized as the industry standard for economic analysis modeling, and is also widely used in the legal and regulatory system. Furthermore, a comprehensive analysis conducted by Integra Realty Resources (IRR) found the presence of a pipeline does not affect home values or insurability. The IRR study was submitted to the FERC in a follow-up data response.”


►   Lawmakers ready for second week of special session

CHARLESTON, WV — Work to fill the state’s $270 million budget hole continues in a special session Monday and Delegate Kelli Sobonya (R-Cabell,18) says members of the House of Delegates need to work together to come up with a solution.

Sobonya said state residents are looking to the legislature for a way out of the state’s current budget crisis.

“I’m taking the initiative on behalf of my constituents to do the best job I can to make sure that the priorities of the people are going to be recognized and I challenge each of you to do the same,” she told members of the House during a Friday floor session.

Democrats in the House are looking to amend the tobacco tax bill to make it a $1 dollar per pack increase in the cigarette tax instead of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed 45-cent per pack increase.

The state Senate passed the 45-cent increase last week. The measure would also bring the tax on smokeless and chewing tobacco from 7 percent to 12 percent and establish a tax on e-cigarettes.

Also, delegates hope to look at a list of proposed budget cuts crafted by the House Finance Committee.

Sobonya said although she’s not a member of the Finance Committee, she took the initiative to put calls out to state agencies for a reason.

“When the buck stops with me and my constituents, they’re going to look to me and say ‘Did you do everything you could do to turn over every rock, leave no stone unturned to make sure that we have the leanest government that we can ever have before we dip into the pockets of the taxpayers?‘” she said.

Sobonya cited the decline of the coal industry and “the failure” of previous leadership with budget problems lawmakers are continuing to sort out, but said she knows they’re “up to the task.”

“We are going to be able to lead,” she said. “I hope that we can do it as a team.”

The House floor session will begin at 11 a.m.

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV

WHY TALIBAN LEADER’S DEATH IS SEEN AS HOPEFUL SIGN

Some view the killing of Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour as a game-changer in efforts to end the long insurgent war plaguing Afghanistan.


WHAT OBAMA LOOKS TO ACCOMPLISH IN ASIA

The president arrives in Vietnam intent on building stronger economic and security ties with Asian-Pacific allies nervous about the rise of China.


IRAQ LAUNCHES OPERATION TO RETAKE IS-HELD CITY OF FALLUJAH

Iraqi forces are “approaching a moment of great victory” against the extremist group, Prime Minister al-Abadi says announcing the move.


CLINTON SHRUGS TRUMP’S PERSONAL ATTACKS

“I don’t care what he says about me, but I do resent what he says about other people, other successful women, who have worked hard, who have done their part,“ she says.


EGYPT SENDS SUBMARINE TO HUNT FOR CRASHED JET’S BLACK BOXES

Meanwhile, hundreds of Coptic Christian mourners fill a church in Cairo to pray for their relatives among the dead.


FIRST BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARD GOES TO THE WEEKND

The night’s top nominee dedicates it to Prince, saying that the music legend will always be an inspiration for him.


ABSENTEE BALLOT COUNT TO DECIDE AUSTRIAN ELECTION

The presidential polls are too close to call a winner between a right-wing politician and a challenger whose views stand in stark opposition to his rival’s anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic message.


VERDICT EXPECTED MONDAY IN FREDDIE GRAY-OFFICER TRIAL

Prosecutors say Edward Nero unlawfully arrested Gray without probable cause and was negligent when he didn’t buckle the prisoner into a seat belt.


SONYA SOTOMAYOR’S ADVICE FOR GRADUATES

The U.S. Supreme Court Justice advises the class of 2016 at the University of Rhode Island to hold onto the memories they’ve created and learn from their mistakes.


WHO WINS PALME D’OR AT CANNES

British director Ken Loach receives his second award at the Cannes Film Festival for “I, Daniel Blake” - a portrayal of a disabled man’s struggle with the crushing benefits system in England.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   10 States With the Most Student Debt

The average American college student owed $28,950 at graduation in 2014—but students in some states are even worse off. 24/7 Wall St. rounds up the top 10 states with the most student debt on average—based on 2014 numbers from the Institute for College Access and Success—noting states with higher median household incomes tend to have a higher debts.

  1. Delaware, $33,808
  2. New Hampshire, $33,410
  3. Pennsylvania, $33,264
  4. Rhode Island, $31,841
  5. Minnesota, $31,579
  6. Maine, $30,908
  7. Connecticut, $29,750
  8. Iowa, $29,732
  9. Michigan, $29,450
  10. Alabama, $29,425

Click for the FULL LIST or consider moving to Berlin.


►   Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Bill Criminalizing Performing Abortions

Oklahoma Republican Governor Mary Fallin on Friday vetoed legislation that would make it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion, a measure that would have effectively outlawed the procedure in the state, the AP reports. In vetoing the measure, Fallin said it was vague and would not withstand a legal challenge. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Nathan Dahm, said the measure was aimed at ultimately overturning Roe v. Wade. The bill would have made it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison for anyone who performs an abortion, including doctors. Lawmakers can still attempt a veto override, which requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

The bill, which abortion-rights group Center for Reproductive Rights said was the first of its kind in the nation, also would restrict any physician who performs an abortion from obtaining or renewing a medical license. The legislature passed the measure with no discussion or debate on Thursday. “Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it’s a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception,“ Dahm said. But abortion-rights supporters—and the state’s medical association—have said the bill is unconstitutional. Senator Ervin Yen, a Republican and the only physician in the senate, described the measure as “insane” and voted against it.


►   Tennessee Moves Forward With Lawsuit to Refuse Refugees

Tennessee is poised to be the first state to sue the federal government to prevent the settlement of refugees, the Tennessean reports. On Friday, Governor Bill Haslam refused to sign—but also refused to veto—a resolution passed resoundingly by the Tennessee legislature earlier this year. That lack of action allows the rest of the state government to move forward with a lawsuit against the federal government. The resolution calls on the state attorney general to sue the federal government. If the attorney general decides not to, the resolution says the legislature will hire its own lawyers to do so. Supporters of the resolution say they’ll use a law firm that has previously challenged “abortionists, pornographers, those against school prayer, those against the Ten Commandments, those against God.”

Haslam has expressed a number of concerns about the resolution in the past, including whether or not the legislature has the authority to hire outside counsel to represent the state and letting a branch of the government tell the attorney general what to do, the AP reports. The attorney general’s office hasn’t said whether it will follow through on the lawsuit. But attorney general Herbert Slatery has in the past said the state legally can’t refuse to accept refugees mandated by the federal government, according to WKRN. Opponents of the resolution say it will make life harder for refugees already living in Tennessee. “Attempting to block refugee resettlement blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing,“ the Tennessean quotes an ACLU executive director as saying. The resolution was supported through an online petition titled “Don’t let potential terrorists come to Tennessee.“


►   White House Locked Down After Shots Fired Outside

Secret Service officers shot a man Friday afternoon after shots were fired near the White House, CNN reports. The White House was locked down during the shooting, and Vice President Biden was sheltered inside. President Obama was not at the White House at the time, according to ABC News. Early reports stated the suspect was shooting at the White House, but details remain unclear. Reuters reports the suspect was shot by a Secret Service officer near a security checkpoint after he allegedly refused to drop his gun. The suspect was given medical treatment, taken into custody, and transported to the hospital.


►   Puppy Treated for Drug Addiction Tested Positive for Heroin, Meth

A puppy who was found to be under the influence of meth and heroin had to undergo drug addiction treatment, CNN reports. California police served an arrest warrant on 40-year-old Joshua West at a motel in March. Inside the motel, they found drugs, used needles, and a terrier mix named Bubba. According to CBS Los Angeles, Bubba was lethargic and later tested positive for meth and heroin. “This strikes me as pretty horrible,” says Lt. Robert Wright with the Tustin Police Department, which went public about Bubba’s plight this week. “This is the first time we’ve ever heard of someone reporting that an animal has been under the influence.”

Bubba was handed over to the Orange County Animal Care for treatment. According to a Tustin Police Department Facebook post, Bubba is doing “excellent” but is still undergoing medical care. When he’s ready, he’ll be given to a rescue organization and will hopefully find a new home. While it’s unclear how Bubba got the drugs in his system, police are pushing for West to be charged with animal cruelty in addition to the illegal drug possession charges.


►   Nothing Stops the Mail …Except One Carrier’s Major Snake Phobia

“Rain, snow, but not the snakes?” Fox 32 Chicago quotes Bill Hawkins as saying. Hawkins and his neighbors in Chicago’s Rogers Park are having a hard time getting their mail thanks to the annual springtime boom in garter snakes and a mail carrier deathly afraid of them. A sign in one frustrated neighbor’s front yard reads, “Snake-free zone. Could we pleeze have our mail?“ the Chicago Tribune reports. The problem started in late March, and some neighbors have gone longer than a week without mail at times. A Post Office spokesperson says mail carriers have to right to decide if an area is a safety risk. “In this case, the woman is terrified of snakes,“ he tells the Tribune. “It is irrelevant if the snakes are dangerous or not. Our employees’ safety is the utmost priority.“

A supervisor has been walking with the mail carrier for the past few days to assess the situation. The supervisor goes up to a house and signals the carrier if the coast is clear. Hawkins tried to move some of the garter snakes out of the way for the carrier to no avail. “She was freaked out about snakes completely,“ he tells Fox. Neighbors say they’ve been told by the Post Office it’s their responsibility to get rid of the snakes if they want their mail. “It’s not an infestation of snakes. It is a normal amount of snakes,“ resident Marry Harris, who has no plans to chase the snakes out of Rogers Park, tells the Tribune. “I just want my mail.“ Chicagoist reports Rogers Park was named the city’s most livable neighborhood in 2016. The snakes would seem to agree; the mail carrier, likely not.


►   Teen Girl Dies While Playing Tug-of-War at School Event

An Alabama family is reeling after their 13-year-old daughter collapsed and died during a game of tug-of-war during her school’s field day on Thursday, WVTM reports. Leslie Wentworth says her daughter Maddison was “excited” for the annual field day. “She was a beautiful kid,“ Wentworth says. “She was a bright star. She was going to go places.“ When Maddison collapsed while playing tug-of-war at Williams Intermedia School in Pell City, a school nurse and coaches immediately started performing CPR, according to WIAT. But the teen was pronounced dead after being transported to the hospital. Wentworth tells Fox News Maddison didn’t have any health problems that she knew of, and a cause of death has yet to be determined.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, students, faculty, and staff,” a police spokesperson tells WIAT. One parent is blaming the school for not providing adequate water for the students during a hot field day. “[My daughter] told me that they were only allowed to get water if they went to go to the restroom, otherwise they had to buy the water,“ Amanda Garrett says. “She said it was like a dollar or a $1.50 a bottle.“ She says her daughter, who was playing tug-of-war with Maddison, said Maddison complained about being dizzy and having a headache before collapsing. The school district’s superintendent tells WVTM teachers made sure water was available for students.


►   Diploma Printing Error Embarrasses High School

Graduates at a California high school received a final reminder that spelling is important when they received diploma covers bearing the name “Ontario High Shcool.“ The typo was a printing error made by the grad products company, the district superintendent tells KTLA. All 550 grads will receive a corrected cover and an apology letter, reports NBC Los Angeles. “WOOO GRADUATED FROM ONTARIO HIGH SHCOOL !!!!!!“ tweeted one grad with a photo of the misspelled cover. A friend wished her good luck in collage.

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   France deploying anti-drone technology to protect Euro 2016

PARIS — An unidentified drone buzzes a soccer stadium crammed with spectators at the European Championship. It might just be carrying a camera. Or something more sinister. Toxic chemicals, perhaps.

Either way, the unauthorized flying machine is violating a no-fly zone in place for Europe’s biggest sports event since deadly attacks in Paris last November.

Taking no chances, Euro 2016 organizers said Tuesday that new technology will be deployed at the June 10-July 10 tournament in 10 French cities to protect against unwanted airborne intruders.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Euro 2016 security chief Ziad Khoury said no-fly zones will be declared over all 10 stadiums as well as training grounds for the 24 teams.

“We’ve noted the general proliferation of drone-usage in society,“ Khoury said in his Paris office. “So no-fly zones will be defined over every training ground and every stadium, and in most stadiums and for most matches anti-drone measures — which are quite innovative — will be deployed, working with the state, which will interfere with drones and take control of them if they are spotted.“

French authorities have been alarmed by dozens of mystery drone overflights of sensitive sites — mostly nuclear facilities, but also military installations and even the presidential palace. In response, the government is funding research into technology that could interfere with or jam signals that control drones, or even destroy them.

The government’s General Secretariat for Defence and National Security confirmed to the AP that anti-drone measures will be in place for Euro 2016 but said the exact type of technologies to be deployed will be decided in coming days.

The French gendarmerie already has powerful but not particularly sophisticated portable equipment that could help steer drones away from stadiums by interfering with GPS signals; its drawback is that it could also interfere with GPS signals for civil use, including for aircraft.

Microwave technology that could bring down drones is also being looked at, as are other ground-based technologies to cut or jam signals to the flying machines.

French authorities have trained for the possibility of drones being used to disperse chemicals over spectators. A training exercise in April in Saint-Etienne, a Euro 2016 city in southeast France, imagined that a drone carrying chemical agents had plunged into crowds at the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium, which will host three group matches in June and one game in the knockout round.

“When you prepare an event of this size, you must imagine all scenarios, even the most unlikely,“ Khoury said.

He said authorities have no specific intelligence to indicate drones are a threat. Anti-drone measures to be deployed by the French air force and police “aren’t necessarily infallible, because the technology is new and the drone phenomenon is recent. Let’s say it is a dissuasive measure that didn’t exist at previous sports events,“ he said.

“The idea is not to destroy the drones, because there could be collateral damage, notably if they crashed into the public. It is to prevent them from flying over the stadiums and perhaps to arrest their pilots,“ Khoury said.

Expanded security perimeters around stadiums should keep any drone pilots at a considerable distance, he said.

“So the risk for matches should be limited. For other sites, it’s a different matter,“ Khoury said.

“With drones, it could be curiosity. It could be fans. It could be something more malicious,“ he said. “Nothing has been identified in particular. It’s simply that we are working on all hypotheses so we could respond.“


►   Smoke, cockpit woes signal chaotic finale for EgyptAir plane

CAIRO — Leaked flight data showing trouble in the cockpit and smoke in a plane lavatory are bringing into focus the chaotic final moments of EgyptAir Flight 804, including a three-minute period before contact was lost as alarms on the Airbus 320 screeched one after another.

Officials caution it’s still too early to say what happened to the aircraft — France’s foreign minister said Saturday that “all the hypotheses are being examined” — but mounting evidence points to a sudden, dramatic catastrophe that led to its crash into the eastern Mediterranean early Thursday.

The Egyptian military on Saturday released the first images of aircraft debris plucked from the sea, including personal items and damaged seats. Egypt is leading a multi-nation effort to search for the plane’s black boxes — the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — and other clues that could help explain its sudden plunge into the sea.

“If they lost the aircraft within three minutes that’s very, very quick,“ said aviation security expert Philip Baum. “They were dealing with an extremely serious incident.“

Authorities say the plane lurched left, then right, spun all the way around and plummeted 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) into the sea — never issuing a distress call.

The Facebook page of the chief spokesman for Egypt’s military showed the first photographs of debris from the plane, shredded remains of plane seats, life jackets — one seemingly undamaged — and a scrap of cloth that might be part of a baby’s purple-and-pink blanket.

The spokesman, Brig-Gen. Mohammed Samir, later posted a video showing what appeared to be a piece of blue carpet, seat belts, a shoe and a white handbag. The clip opened with aerial footage of an unidentified navy ship followed by a speedboat heading toward floating debris.

Flight 804 left from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport on Wednesday night en route to Cairo with 66 people aboard. Greek officials say at 2:24 a.m. local time the flight entered the Athens sector of Greek airspace. Twenty-four minutes later, controllers chatted with the pilot, who appeared to be in good spirits.

In Greek, the pilot quipped: “Thank you.“

At 3:12 a.m., the plane passed over the Greek island of Kasos before heading into the eastern Mediterranean, according to flight data maintained by FlightRadar24.

Less than 15 minutes later, about midway between Greece and Egypt, a sensor detected smoke in a lavatory and a fault in two of the plane’s cockpit windows, according to leaked flight data published by The Aviation Herald.

Messages like these “generally mean the start of a fire,“ said Sebastien Barthe, a spokesman for France’s air accident investigation agency. But he warned against inferring too much more from the reading. “Everything else is pure conjecture.“

At 3:27 a.m. Greek time, air traffic controllers in Athens attempted to contact the plane to hand over monitoring of the flight from Greek to Egyptian authorities, according to Greek officials. There was no response from the plane despite repeated calls, including on the emergency frequency. At the same time, a sensor detected that smoke had reached the aircraft’s avionics, the network of computers and wires that control the plane, according to the leaked flight data.

Two minutes later, the aircraft reached Egyptian airspace. Alarms went off warning about the plane’s autopilot and wing control systems, suggesting serious structural problems. Within seconds, the plane fell off the radar (about 2:30 a.m. Egyptian time, which is behind Greek summer time). Air traffic controllers in Cairo sought assistance from the Egyptian air force to track the missing plane — to no avail.

David Learmount, a widely respected aviation expert and editor of the authoritative Flightglobal magazine, said Aviation Herald’s reported readings from the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, suggested a quick-spreading fire.

On his website, Learmount wrote: “The question now is whether the fire that caused the smoke was the result of an electrical fault — for example a short-circuit caused by damaged wiring — or whether some form of explosive or incendiary device was used.“

In the absence of a claim of responsibility, it’s still unclear whether the crash was the result of a fault or an attack, Learmount wrote.

Egyptian aviation expert Hossam Elhamy Shaker said the presence of smoke on board alone does not solve the mystery.

“It just leads us into an area where smoke is a major contributor to the incident, either by destroying the aircraft’s equipment or suffocating the pilots,“ he said.

Baum was skeptical that a fire alone was the reason the plane went down.

“Fires happen aboard aircraft, but they don’t usually result in the destruction of the aircraft in three minutes,“ he said.

Some have wondered at the lack of a mayday signal, but Baum said that could make sense if the crew were unconscious or struggling to regain control of the aircraft.

Investigators have been poring over the plane’s passenger list and questioning ground crew at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, where the airplane took off. Ships and planes from Britain, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and the United States have taken part searching a wide area of sea 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

The waters in the area are 8,000 to 10,000 feet deep (2,440 to 3,050 meters). Pings from the plane’s black boxes can be detected up to a depth of 20,000 feet (6 kilometers).

Egyptian authorities have said they believe terrorism is a more likely explanation than equipment failure, and some aviation experts say the erratic finale to the flight suggests a bomb blast or a struggle in the cockpit — though no evidence of that have emerged.

“All the hypotheses are being examined — none are being favored,“ French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters Saturday after meeting with about 100 family members of the victims to express “our profound compassion” over the crash.

At Charles de Gaulle airport on Saturday, dozens of passengers — mostly Egyptians — queued up for the latest EgyptAir flight to Cairo. Checks were thorough but there were no overt signs of extra security in the waiting area. A French security team did walk through the plane’s aisles, however, before the aircraft took off.

Whatever caused the aircraft to crash, the tragedy deepens Egypt’s struggles to revive a battered economy. While the EgyptAir crash may not reflect directly on Egypt’s airports — unlike a Russian jet bombed in October by the Islamic State group that took off from an Egyptian resort — the country’s association with yet another air disaster will further damage tourism and the flow of foreign investment.


►   U.S. Airstrike May Have Killed Taliban Leader Mullah Mansour

The Pentagon has announced that the US has conducted an airstrike targeting Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, the AP reports. One American official says the U.S. believes Mansour was killed in a drone strike authorized by President Barack Obama. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the attack occurred in a remote region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He said the US was still studying the results of the attack, leaving Mansour’s fate unclear.

But a US official who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the operation said Mansour and a second male combatant accompanying him in a vehicle were likely killed. The official said the attack was carried out by unmanned aircraft operated by US Special Operations Forces. The official said the operation occurred southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal.


►   Taliban: Yes, Leader Killed in U.S. Strike

A senior commander of the Afghan Taliban confirmed Sunday that the group’s leader, Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour, has been killed in a US drone strike. Mullah Abdul Rauf, who recently reconciled with Mansour after initially rebelling against his ascension to the leadership, told the AP that Mansour died in the strike late Friday “in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.“ Afghanistan’s intelligence agency confirmed Sunday that Mansour had been killed. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said that Mansour is “more than likely” dead. Abdullah said Mansour’s death would have a positive impact on attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been waging an insurgency for 15 years. Mansour was “the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process,“ Abdullah said. “From the day he took over the Taliban following the death of Mullah Omar, he intensified violence against ordinary citizens, especially in Afghanistan.“

US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday repeatedly referred to Mansour in the past tense, saying “Mansur was a threat to that (peace) effort. He also was directly opposed to peace negotiations and to the reconciliation process. It is time for Afghans to stop fighting and to start building a real future together.“ Mansour formally led the Taliban after the death was announced last summer of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the movement’s founder. Mansour, Mullah Omar’s deputy, concealed Mullah Omar’s death for more than two years, and ran the Taliban in his name until the death was revealed by the Afghan government. A senior Afghan official said Mansour controlled a substantial financial empire, largely built on smuggling drugs produced in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Different Taliban factions have recently fought over control of smuggling routes. “When they started fighting for power, that was the erosion of the legitimacy of their own rank and file,“ he said.


►   Smoke Was Detected Just Before EgyptAir Crash

Smoke was detected in multiple places on EgyptAir Flight 804 moments before it plummeted into the Mediterranean, but the cause of the crash that killed all 66 on board remains unclear, the French air accident investigation agency says. Agency spokesman Sebastien Barthe tells the AP that the plane’s automatic detection system sent messages indicating smoke a few minutes before the plane disappeared from radar while flying over the eastern Mediterranean early on Thursday morning. The messages, he says, “generally mean the start of a fire,“ but he adds: “We are drawing no conclusions from this. Everything else is pure conjecture.“

The aircraft had been cruising normally in clear skies early Thursday when it suddenly lurched left, then right, spun all the way around, and plummeted 38,000 feet into the sea. Aviation experts have said the erratic flight suggests a bomb blast or a struggle in the cockpit. But so far no hard evidence has emerged. Search crews found floating debris and human remains on Friday, and photos posted on the Facebook page of Egypt’s chief military spokesman appear to show the remains of plane seats, life jackets, and a scrap of cloth that looks to be part of a baby’s blanket. Search crews from Egypt and five other countries—Greece, Britain, France, the US, and Cyprus—are searching a wide area of the eastern Med for further wreckage.


►   Searchers Find Body Parts, Seats, Luggage From EgyptAir Crash

Search crews found floating human remains, luggage, and seats from EgyptAir Flight 804 on Friday, the AP reports. But they face a potentially more complex task in locating bigger pieces of wreckage and the black boxes vital to determining why the plane plunged into the Mediterranean. Looking for clues to whether terrorists brought down Flight 804 and its 66 people aboard, investigators pored over the passenger list and questioned ground crew members at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, where the plane took off. In Egypt, home to 30 of the victims, grieving families and friends wondered if their loved ones would ever be recovered. Many gathered in mosques for Salat al-Ghaib, or “prayers for the absent,“ held for the dead whose bodies have not been found.

No militant group has claimed to have brought down the aircraft. European security officials said the passenger manifest for Flight 804 contained no names on terrorism watch lists. Experts said answers will come only with an examination of the wreckage and the plane’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders, commonly known as black boxes. Egyptian searchers found the first debris from the crash around 180 miles north of the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria. Information transmitted through the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, showed that smoke was detected in the plane’s lavatory near the cockpit before it crashed.


►   El-Sissi says Egypt submarine headed to plane crash site

CAIRO — Egypt’s president said on Sunday a submarine belonging to his country’s Oil Ministry was headed to the site of the crash of EgyptAir Flight-804 in the eastern Mediterranean to join the search for the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, commonly known as black boxes.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also said Egypt was jointly investigating the Thursday crash with the French government. “It is very, very important to us to establish the circumstances that led to the crash of that aircraft,“ he said in comments broadcast live on Egyptian TV channels.

He said the submarine, which has the capacity to operate at a depth of 3,000 meters (9842 feet) below the surface, left for the site Sunday. He gave no further details.

Making his first public comments since the crash of the Airbus A320 while en route from Paris to Cairo, el-Sissi says it “will take time” to determine the exact cause of the crash, which killed all 66 people on board.

He thanked the nations that have joined Egyptian navy ships and aircraft in the search for the wreckage and started his comments with a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims.

El-Sissi also cautioned the media against premature speculation on the cause of the crash.

“There is not one scenario that we can exclusively subscribe to ... all scenarios are possible,“ he said.

El-Sissi spoke a day after the leak of flight data showing trouble in the cockpit and smoke in a plane lavatory aboard the doomed aircraft, bringing into focus the chaotic final moments of the flight, including a three-minute period before contact was lost as alarms on the plane screeched one after another.

Officials have been cautioning that it was still too early to say what happened to the aircraft, but mounting evidence points to a sudden, dramatic catastrophe that led to the crash.

Egypt’s military on Saturday released the first images of aircraft debris plucked from the sea, including personal items and damaged seats. Egypt is leading a multi-nation effort to search for the plane’s black boxes and other clues that could help explain its sudden plunge into the sea.

“If they lost the aircraft within three minutes that’s very, very quick,“ said aviation security expert Philip Baum. “They were dealing with an extremely serious incident.“

Authorities say the plane lurched left, then right, spun all the way around and plummeted 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) into the sea — never issuing a distress call.

Investigators have been poring over the plane’s passenger list and questioning ground crew at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, where the airplane took off. Beside Egypt, ships and planes from Britain, Cyprus, France, Greece and the United States are taking part searching a wide area of sea 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

The EgyptAir tragedy deepens the country’s struggle to revive its battered economy. While it may not reflect directly on security at Egypt’s airports — which has been under international scrutiny since a Russian airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula in October after taking off from an Egyptian resort — the country’s association with yet another air disaster will further damage its vital but currently depressed tourism industry.


►   Dutch Climber Is Year’s First Everest Death

A 35-year-old Dutch man suffering from high-altitude sickness died on his way back from Mount Everest’s summit in the first death reported this year on the world’s highest mountain, an expedition organizer says. Eric Arnold died near the South Col on Friday night, Pasang Phurba of the Seven Summit Treks agency in Kathmandu tells the AP. Arnold had climbing partners with him and plenty of bottled oxygen, but he complained of getting weak and died before he was able to come down to a lower altitude, Phurba says.

Phurba says more details are not available yet because of poor communication with the crew on the mountain, and it will take days and several people to bring the body of Arnold down the slopes. “Mountain climber Eric Arnold reaches the summit of Mount Everest at the fifth attempt,“ the Rotterdam man said in his final tweet. Favorable weather has allowed hundreds of climbers to scale the 29,035-foot mountain since last week. More than 330 climbers have reached the summit from Nepal since May 11, and several more have done so from the northern routes in Tibet.


►   Escaped Tarantulas Cause Panic on Plane

It sounds like a nightmare come true, especially for people afraid of both flying and spiders: On a recent flight from the Dominican Republic to Montreal, two escaped tarantulas caused chaos and terrified passengers, including a woman who was watching a movie when she found one crawling up her leg, the CBC reports. Catherine Moreau—who was wearing a skirt—says she had to hit it to get it off her leg. “My husband managed to trap it in a plastic container, but its legs were sticking out,“ she says. “My daughter was screaming, she was in a state of shock.“ Other passengers screamed abd stood on their seats after discovering a second tarantula was loose in the cabin. That one wasn’t captured until after the flight landed in Canada.

Moreau—who was scratched and is seeking a partial refund for the flight—says flight attendants weren’t much help, the Independent reports, though a spokeswoman for their union says they tried to calm people down and asked passengers to put their shoes on. The airline says most passengers remained calm and staff did their best in an “extraordinary and isolated event.“ University of Montreal entomologist Étienne Normandin tells the CBC the tarantulas were probably the species Phormictopus cancerides, which is common in the Dominican Republic and is “aggressive, but the venom is not strong.“ He says they were probably hidden in the luggage of a passenger who planned to sell them.


►   Woman’s Mummified Husband Found Weeks After Her Death

A 74-year-old woman in Wales was discovered to have murdered her husband—three weeks after she died of cancer, the Guardian reports. Leigh Ann Sabine passed away in October. Weeks later, a friend went into a communal shed used to store gardening supplies where Sabine had always said she kept a medical skeleton wrapped in plastic bags and roofing felt. The friend wanted to use the skeleton for a prank, but when she opened the wrapping she found the mummified remains of Sabine’s husband John, who disappeared in 1997. According to the BBC, it’s unclear when John died. His pajama-clad body was preserved through “chemical mummification,“ and fractures to his skull matched up with a heavy stone frog the couple kept next to their bed.

Authorities believe Sabine killed her husband. There’s no record of domestic violence, no sign she was acting in self defense, and no evidence anyone else was involved. In fact, she had hinted about the murder and the true identify of the skeleton for years, but her friends always thought she was joking. “People are going to talk about me after I have gone…because of the body in the bag,“ a hairdresser recalls Sabine saying in the months before her death. “The problem with [Sabine] was you never knew if she was telling the truth or not,” the Guardian quotes one friend as saying. Sabine used to talk about being a model in Australia and a professional singer. But one thing is for sure. “She took great pride in the communal garden area after her husband was gone,“ the New Zealand Herald quotes a pastor who knew Sabine.


►   Mexico OKs Extradition of El Chapo to U.S.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department has ruled that the extradition of convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States can go forward, the AP reports. The process can still be appealed, meaning it could be weeks or months before the Sinaloa cartel leader may be sent north. Guzman’s lawyers now have 30 days to appeal the decision. The department said Friday that the US has guaranteed that Guzman would not face the death penalty, which is not applied in Mexico.


►   Open Wide: World’s Longest Pizza Stretches for 1.15 Miles

Guinness World Records has confirmed there’s a new superlong pizza for the books—and it was meticulously crafted in the Italian city that claims itself as the “heart and soul” of the tasty dish, per NPR. One hundred chefs gathered in Naples Wednesday, merging 4,400 pounds of flour, 3,525 pounds of tomatoes, 4,400 pounds of mozzarella cheese, and more than 50 gallons of olive oil to create 6,082 feet (that’s 1.15 miles) of pizza pie, which was then cooked in five portable wood-fired ovens, New York reports. It took the cooks 11 hours to put together their pie, which beat the previous record of a 5,234-foot-long (0.99 miles) pie made in Milan last June.

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►   ‘Morbid’ Funeral Home Ad Wants Motorists to ‘Text and Drive’

Motorists in Toronto were recently confronted by a huge billboard from Wathan Funeral Home instructing them to “text and drive,“ Adweek reports. The “provocative in the extreme” billboard understandably sent many angry Toronto residents to the Wathan Funeral website. There they were greeted with this message: “You probably came to this website to tell us what horrible people we are for running an ad like that. And you’d be right. It is a horrible thing for a funeral home to do. But we’re not a funeral home.” Instead, the billboard is a PSA from ad agency John St. and billboard owner Cieslok Media, according to BuzzFeed.

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Cieslok Media CEO Jörg Cieslok tells Adweek the billboard is “for the general public good.“ “We wanted to think of a different way of saying it that would make people think about the real consequences,” the managing director of John St. adds. The Nathan Funeral website states fatalities from texting and driving are becoming more common than even those from drinking and driving. And yet more than half of drivers in Ontario admit to reading texts while they’re behind the wheel. The reaction to the stealth PSA on social media has found the billboard to be “clever” but “morbid.“

Sutton, West Virginia, Resident Begins Peace Corps Service in Togo

Timothy Bedunah, 22, of Sutton, West Virginia, has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will depart for Togo on June 8 to begin training as a secondary education English teacher. Bedunah will work at the community level to train new English teachers on techniques to employ in the classroom and create a community of practice among his counterparts. He will also work closely with the English and gender education project in collaboration with other volunteers to organize girls’ conferences, youth camps and vacation enterprise activities within his community.

“I have always felt a calling to do service abroad—I suppose that I have the foreign language major to thank for that,” said Bedunah. “I have always known about the Peace Corps and kept it in the back of my mind. I love the idea of being able to completely assimilate myself into a new culture and community. I love that I will be able to teach people about America, and then teach Americans about other parts of the world when I return.”

Bedunah is the son of Angela and Timothy Bedunah of Morgantown, West Virginia, and a 2012 graduate of Braxton County High School of Sutton. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in world languages and linguistics with a specialization in 18th and 19th century French literature from West Virginia University, in May of 2016.

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“WVU helped foster my interest in giving back to the community,” he said. “I was able to really learn the importance of campus-community partnerships and why it is important to donate your time to your community. I was also able to study abroad in North Africa, which is where I found my calling to return to the continent.”

During the first three months of service, Bedunah will live with a host family in Togo to learn the local language and integrate into the culture. After acquiring the language and cultural skills that will help him make a lasting difference, Bedunah will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Togo where he will serve for two years.

Bedunah will work in cooperation with the local people and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Togo and help Bedunah develop leadership, technical and cross-cultural skills that will give him a competitive edge when he returns home. Peace Corps volunteers return from service as global citizens well-positioned for professional opportunities in today’s global job market.

“I am most excited about being able to combine the different sectors of Peace Corps. I am an English and Gender Equality volunteer, but that doesn’t mean that I have to stay specifically in the Education field,” he said. “I want to cross over into the Agriculture and Environment Protection sectors. One of the first things that I want to do is build a garden at the school I will be teaching.”

Bedunah joins the 13 West Virginia residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 667 West Virginia residents have served as volunteers since the agency was created in 1961.


About Peace Corps/Togo: There are 84 Volunteers in Togo working with their communities on projects in agriculture, education, and health. During their service in Togo, Volunteers learn to speak local languages, including Bassar, Ewe, French, Ikposso, Kabiyé, Konkomba, Kotokoli, Moba, Tchamba, and Tem. More than 2,850 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Togo since the program was established in 1962.

Mountain Valley Pipeline Would Impose Billions In Costs On Local People, Communities

The Free Press WV

A new study by Charlottesville-based Key-Log Economics (“Economic Costs of the Mountain Valley Pipeline: Effects on Property Value, Ecosystem Services, and Economic Development in Virginia and West Virginia”) estimates the total cost to an 8-county region in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia between $8 billion and $8.9 billion in present value terms. That includes between $65.1 million and $135.5 million in the short-term as construction strips forests and other productive land bare, and as private property values take a hit due to the dangers and inconvenience of living near the MVP route.  It also includes $119.1 million to $130.8 million each year after construction due to permanent changes in land cover, lost property tax revenues, and dampened economic growth in key sectors.

A coalition of community groups and organizations from the eight counties (Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers in West Virginia, and Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin in Virginia) commissioned the independent research to ensure that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would have more comprehensive and robust estimates of economic effects that are typically discounted or ignored in natural-gas pipeline approval processes. The coalition had previously debunked exaggerated claims that the MVP would provide benefits in the form of jobs and income in the region. The new report provides at least a piece of the essential cost side of the benefit-cost evaluation. 

“FERC’s procedures and its track record show a blatant disregard for established economic principles as well as clear evidence that pipelines reduce property values, discourage business development, and diminish the capacity of the natural environment to provide clean water, beautiful scenery, and other valuable services to people,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Spencer Phillips.

Central findings of the Key-Log Economics report include:

●      One-time costs (lost property value and lost ecosystem service value during construction) would total between $65.1 million and $135.5 million.

●      Annual costs would range from $119.1 million to $130.8 million.

●      The present discounted value of all future annual costs (discounted at 1.5%) is $7.9 billion to $8.7 billion.

●      One-time costs plus the discounted value of all future annual costs is $8 billion to $8.9 billion.

●      The purported financial benefits to local governments are based on exaggerated MVP economic benefits claims.

●      The need for the MVP is not supported by economic benefits for impacted communities.

 “Only if we count all of these costs (plus others our study did not get to, like the cost of damage to roads during construction or of heightened emergency response capacity after), weigh the full cost against reasonable estimates of societal benefits, and then ensure that the pipeline’s owners pay the full cost of the pipeline could we possibly say that the MVP is a good idea, economically,” said Phillips.

Kirk Bowers of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club said, “Based on a comparison of even the exaggerated benefit estimates put out by the MVP’s backers with these very conservative cost estimates, it is hard to see this pipeline being worth it for the region.”

Read the complete Key-Log Economics report.A new study by Charlottesville-based Key-Log Economics (“Economic Costs of the Mountain Valley Pipeline: Effects on Property Value, Ecosystem Services, and Economic Development in Virginia and West Virginia”) estimates the total cost to an 8-county region in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia between $8 billion and $8.9 billion in present value terms. That includes between $65.1 million and $135.5 million in the short-term as construction strips forests and other productive land bare, and as private property values take a hit due to the dangers and inconvenience of living near the MVP route.  It also includes $119.1 million to $130.8 million each year after construction due to permanent changes in land cover, lost property tax revenues, and dampened economic growth in key sectors.

A coalition of community groups and organizations from the eight counties (Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers in West Virginia, and Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin in Virginia) commissioned the independent research to ensure that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would have more comprehensive and robust estimates of economic effects that are typically discounted or ignored in natural-gas pipeline approval processes. The coalition had previously debunked exaggerated claims that the MVP would provide benefits in the form of jobs and income in the region. The new report provides at least a piece of the essential cost side of the benefit-cost evaluation. 

“FERC’s procedures and its track record show a blatant disregard for established economic principles as well as clear evidence that pipelines reduce property values, discourage business development, and diminish the capacity of the natural environment to provide clean water, beautiful scenery, and other valuable services to people,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Spencer Phillips.

Central findings of the Key-Log Economics report include:

●      One-time costs (lost property value and lost ecosystem service value during construction) would total between $65.1 million and $135.5 million.

●      Annual costs would range from $119.1 million to $130.8 million.

●      The present discounted value of all future annual costs (discounted at 1.5%) is $7.9 billion to $8.7 billion.

●      One-time costs plus the discounted value of all future annual costs is $8 billion to $8.9 billion.

●      The purported financial benefits to local governments are based on exaggerated MVP economic benefits claims.

●      The need for the MVP is not supported by economic benefits for impacted communities.

 “Only if we count all of these costs (plus others our study did not get to, like the cost of damage to roads during construction or of heightened emergency response capacity after), weigh the full cost against reasonable estimates of societal benefits, and then ensure that the pipeline’s owners pay the full cost of the pipeline could we possibly say that the MVP is a good idea, economically,” said Phillips.

Kirk Bowers of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club said, “Based on a comparison of even the exaggerated benefit estimates put out by the MVP’s backers with these very conservative cost estimates, it is hard to see this pipeline being worth it for the region.”

Read the complete Key-Log Economics report.

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   West Virginia anti-tax lawmakers shape talks in dire budget

CHARLESTON, WV — Republican leaders in West Virginia’s House of Delegates face a hurdle in a likely tobacco tax vote: 25 of the chamber’s 100 lawmakers have signed pledges not to raise taxes under almost all circumstances.

Several of those lawmakers are still finding ways to support a 45-cent per-pack tax increase on cigarettes, and higher taxes on other tobacco products and e-cigarettes, which would yield $78 million annually; or, about $71.5 million if just the cigarette hike passes.

Support from some of the tax pledge contingency could be crucial, as House leaders, including Speaker Tim Armstead, search for 51-plus votes on the measure early next week. It squeaked by in a 17-16 Senate vote this week, with 15 of 16 Democrats voting against it.

The extra money won’t solve the $270 million hole that remains in the budget. But it’s the only tax hike that appears to stand a chance in the GOP-led Legislature. Covering the rest likely will come through cuts and sweeps from state reserves.

Opposition to the tax hike is coming from multiple directions. Many Democrats also don’t support it, saying the tax should be raised higher, by $1 per pack of cigarettes, worth $115 million. The current tax is 55 cents a pack.

“Certain members, obviously, have the no-tax pledge,“ said Delegate Eric Nelson, a Kanawha County Republican, House budget chairman and supporter of the tobacco tax hike. “Other members — ‘Let’s do it all with taxes.‘ And then there’s the group in between.“

Americans for Tax Reform says voting for tax increases is fine if it’s tied to an offsetting tax cut of at least equal size. Generally, the offset must be spelled out in the same bill. And a tax increase can only be offset by a tax cut within a reasonable time window, not over years.

Still, several delegates say they can vote for the tobacco tax with a clear conscience.

Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, pointed to potential health benefits. She also said she can vote for it because she voted for offsetting tax decreases this year, and in years past. For example, the Legislature voted this year to drop a secondary tax on mining coal and drilling for natural gas, worth about $113 million in the 2017 budget year. The money has been used to pay back a workers’ compensation debt.

Others pointed to the urgency of the situation. If there’s no budget in place July 1, an unprecedented government shutdown could occur.

“I think it’s better to put in that tax than to have utter chaos,“ said Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley.

Some delegates shrugged off the pledge entirely.

“The pledge doesn’t mean a damn thing to me,“ Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, told the Beckley Register-Herald. “Grover Norquist can kiss my hind-end.“ Norquist is head of Americans for Tax Reform.

Many lawmakers are likely to oppose the bill, particularly in an election year, setting up a potentially tight vote.

West Virginia’s cigarette tax is 55 cents, and would go up to $1 under the current bill. Kentucky’s is 60 cents and Virginia’s is 30 cents, while Pennsylvania and Ohio charge $1.60.

Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin called lawmakers into session Monday. Each day of session costs $35,000. They will return after the weekend for a sixth day.


►   Greenbrier County officials: two students possessed dangerous weapon

RAINELLE, WV — School officials in Greenbrier County say two students were in possession of a dangerous weapon at Rainelle Elementary School Thursday.

Superintendent Sallie Dalton said there there was no intent to use the weapon, no students were in danger and no ammunition was on school property.

The two students will be dealt with in accordance with school policy, Dalton said.

Law enforcement is assisting in the investigation, and a letter was sent home to parents and guardians explaining the situation.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   10 Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities

Detroit lost 3,107 residents in the year ending July 2015—which the Detroit News notes is the smallest drop in decades but still enough to knock Detroit out of the nation’s 20 most populous cities for the first time since before the Civil War. (With a population of 677,116, it’s now No. 21.) Perhaps those departing residents headed to Texas. The state is home to five of the top 10 fastest-growing US cities, according to new stats from the Census Bureau. The list, including population increases:

  1. Georgetown, Texas: 7.8%
  2. New Braunfels, Texas: 6.6%
  3. Ankeny, Iowa: 6.5%
  4. Frisco, Texas: 6.3%
  5. South Jordan, Utah: 6%
  6. Dublin, Calif.: 5.5%
  7. Pearland, Texas: 5.3%
  8. Milpitas, Calif.: 5.3%
  9. Broomfield, Colo.: 5.2%
  10. Mount Pleasant, SC: 4.7%

See the FULL LIST here with more breakdowns.


►   Target Sues Guy Who Saved Teen From Knifeman in Pittsburgh

The family of Allison Meadows says Michael Turner is a hero for saving their daughter from a crazed knifeman in a Target store—and the chain definitely shouldn’t be suing him. Turner was among a group of men who tackled Leon Walls in a Target in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood in 2013 after the mentally ill homeless grabbed the 16-year-old and stabbed her. Target, however, blames Turner for the incident, alleging that it wouldn’t have happened if Turner and his friends hadn’t chased Walls into the store after he attacked one of them, News Channel 9 reports. He was named as a defendant in a lawsuit the chain filed after Meadow’s family filed a suit of their own, accusing Target of not providing enough security.

Turner says that after Walls stabbed his friend for no reason, he and three other men discovered he had entered a nearby Target. They went in to hold him until police arrived, but he grabbed the girl when they confronted him. Last year, Walls was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison by a judge who criticized Target for suing Turner, CBS Pittsburgh reports. Judge Donna Jo McDaniel said she considers Turner and his friends heroes who saved the girl’s life, and she thinks Target is suing to make the Meadows family back down from their lawsuit. The trial in the Turner lawsuit begins Monday and the Meadows family, who had been visiting from Tennessee when their daughter was attacked, plan to return to Pittsburgh to attend.


►   Man: Joining ISIS Was a Horrible Mistake

Joining ISIS was “obviously the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,“ admits a New York City man who fled after five months in Syria and lived to tell the tale to NBC. In a Dateline interview, the man, a Columbia University graduate identified only as “Mo,“ describes how he went to Syria in June 2014 and quickly became disillusioned after witnessing sickening brutality. “At one point towards the end as things were getting more and more serious, I did see severed heads placed on spiked poles,“ says the 27-year-old. After five months, he fled to Turkey and banged on the door of a US consulate. He was brought back to the US and is now in federal custody.

Mo says joining the group was a “misunderstanding,“ and former FBI agent Ali Soufan notes that when he joined up “a lot of people were not convinced that ISIS is a bad terrorist organization.“ Mo now faces up to 25 years in prison on charges including receiving military training from a terrorist organization, but he has been cooperating fully with authorities since his arrest and could receive a lighter sentence. He says he is sharing his story, which will be aired in full on Sunday’s Dateline, to stop others making the same mistake. “I’m helping in every sense that I can to help rid the world of the evil that I saw,“ he says. “And it’s an arrow in my quiver every time I help.“


►   We’re Turning College Students Into Babies

Like a lot of colleges, the University of Oregon has a formal complaint system students can use to report claims of bias. It’s a well-intentioned idea, writes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post, but she thinks a quick glance at the 85 complaints in the school’s annual report highlights a bigger problem: Students are turning into babies who run to administrators instead of trying to solve problems on their own. Yes, some legitimate complaints are in the bunch, but far more are along the lines of a student who complained about being ignored by a tutor. “When in doubt, blame any unsatisfactory encounter on bias, and call in the authorities.“

All kinds of factors might be at play here, from helicopter parenting to schools’ dread of bad PR on social media. “Whatever the cause, infantilizing students does them—and the social causes they support—no favors.“ College is precisely the place where students are supposed to learn how to think critically, engage with people who hold opposing views, and figure out ways to resolve conflict. Instead, they’re being rewarded by turning to “Daddy Administrator,“ as the headline puts it. The polarized political culture in the adult world is already bad enough. “It’s hard not to see a sort of caricature of this problem on campuses today, where students don’t learn the tools they’d need to engage even if they wanted to,“ writes Rampell. Click for the FULL COLUMN .

In The World….

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►   Walrus ‘Hug’ Kills 2 at Wildlife Park

A tourist and trainer have died after a walrus “hug” at a wildlife park in China. A male tourist from northern China was reportedly taking videos of a walrus from a narrow walkway at Xixiajou Wildlife Park in Shandong Province when he accidentally fell in the walrus pool. A trainer jumped in after him but a 3,000-pound walrus wrapped the pair in a “hug” and pulled them underwater, per the Shanghai Daily. Onlookers attempted to use bamboo poles to free the men, but both had drowned by the time they were recovered from the pool. The accident occurred “lately,“ though a precise date wasn’t given.

The New York Post reports a “disturbing” video of the incident has appeared on social media site Weibo. The video, along with photos of the walrus pool, have many questioning whether the site is safe for visitors, who observe the pool from what is essentially an elevated sidewalk that has no railing or other barrier. The park remains open, and employees say the walrus involved is usually docile and may have only been trying to play with its longtime trainer.


►   Couple’s Wedding Guest List: 1,100 Cats

At most weddings, it would probably be considered impolite, or at the very least unusual, if the majority of guests began to lick themselves. But it was neither impolite nor unusual in the case of the 1,100 guests at a Canadian couple’s destination wedding in California. Dominic Husson and Louise Veronneau of Montreal on Tuesday exchanged vows at California’s Cat House on the Kings, a no-kill no-cage cat sanctuary, in what KSEE describes as the “purr-fect” wedding day. “We are both animal lovers, and it shows,“ Husson says. “She’s a great person, and that’s why I wanted to marry her.“

In 2012, Veronneau visited the sanctuary and put it on her bucket list as a place to return to some day, reports KFSN. (Husson hadn’t visited previous to the wedding.) “I feel in love,“ Veronneau says. “I feel in love with the work [they’re] doing for the cats and the rescuing.“ Cat House on the Kings has been a permanent home for more than 24,000 cats and 7,000 dogs since it was first established 24 years ago, reports the CBC. The couple is the first to marry at the sanctuary, and founder Lynea Lattanzio admitted to pre-wedding jitters. But the cats and the couple got along well, and not a single across-the-aisle jab was reported to be traded.


►   German Man Claims ‘Fantastical’ Find: Nazi Nukes

A Nazi gold train. The Amber Room. Claims of legendary Nazi-era finds have been surfacing of late—and, it’s worth noting, not panning out—and Nazi nukes now join that list. In what it describes as a “fantastical” claim, the Local reports retired mechanical engineer and amateur historian Peter Lohr believes nuclear material has been housed in a large subterranean chamber near Chemnitz, Germany, for 71 years. That worries the 70-year-old, who suspects that when the metal decays “a second Chernobyl” will follow, reports the German tabloid Bild. Using ground-penetrating radar, Lohr has for years been investigating a network of Nazi tunnels built by those held at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Now that he’s been able to use 3D modeling software, he says he has discovered an underground chamber containing five large metal objects.

The shape of two of them, according to Lohr, echoes that of nuclear bombs. Not everyone is concerned; treasure hunters and historians alike have been on the hunt for similar artifacts from WWII for decades, and historians generally agree that no evidence of nuclear success exists; the Local cites one historian who points out that Joseph Goebbels, “Hitler’s closest confidant,“ made no reference to a bomb in his diary. But the Telegraph reports there has been a lot of speculation regarding the tunnels’ purpose, which has remained elusive—perhaps it was a weapons test site, or a planned hiding place for Nazi leaders. Either way, Lohr says the authorities aren’t taking his find seriously: “They just told me that I’m not allowed to continue my research anymore.“


►   Spare a Cool Thought for India After Hottest Day Ever - It hit 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday in Rajasthan state

A city in the Indian state of Rajasthan just broke the mercury and recorded the country’s highest temperature ever, the Guardian reports. Per a director in the nation’s meteorological department, Phalodi reached 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, breaking the previous record of 123.1 degrees set in 1956 in Alwar. And it doesn’t look like the weekend will bring much relief, with the weather office noting there will be “severe heat wave” conditions in the north and west.

The BBC notes that while it’s typical for India to experience increasing temps and full-on sun right before the start of monsoon season (around mid-June), it’s not as common for the thermometer to creep past 122 degrees. “Even my mobile phone gave up and stopped working when I was trying to take pictures today,“ one Phalodi local says. “I was able to switch [it back] on after putting a wet cloth on it for about 20 [to] 25 minutes.“ Indian state governments estimate more than 370 people have died in 2016’s heat so far, per CNN. The world record still lies with Death Valley, Calif., however, where the mercury hit 134 degrees in July 1913.


►   Killer Wandered Palace Grounds While Queen Was In

It’s not only the Secret Service that deals with embarrassing gaffes involving fence jumpers. A convicted killer jumped the wall around Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, triggering an alarm, but was able to wander the grounds for 10 minutes before he was arrested, unarmed, reports the BBC. Prosecutors say Denis Hennessy repeatedly asked if the Queen was home (more specifically, “Is Ma’am in?“)—and she was, along with Prince Philip and Prince Andrew.

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The 41-year-old told police he had “walked through the gardens admiring the view,“ reports the AP. Hennessy—convicted of fatally beating a homeless man in 1992—pleaded guilty to trespassing and criminal damage and was sentenced to four months in jail on Friday. He had apparently consumed “four or five cans of cider” before tackling the fence; his lawyer said he had no “malicious intent.“

SecondlaunchWV Saves $2 Million Worth of Computers; Provides Technology to Schools for Free

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV – Representatives from secondlaunchWV were present at Chesapeake Elementary School this morning to present newly refurbished equipment to the school. The school received 20 computers, five notebooks and four laser printers, all in working order, all for free.

Two years ago, the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and the West Virginia Office of Technology partnered together to explore the feasibility of a technology recycling project. One year ago, secondlaunchWV had recycled and refurbished $1 million worth of computers and other equipment. This month, secondlaunchWV reached $2 million worth of recycled technology, and has no plans to stop.

Computers and other equipment are donated to secondlaunchWV from agencies of the executive branch of government in the state. This equipment is then wiped, cleaned and upgraded to meet the requirements of the programs used in schools. Computers, monitors, keyboards and mice are packaged together for ease of use and assembly, and schools can pick the computers up at the secondlaunchWV warehouse.

“Our goal with this program is to ensure that all students have the resources they need to be successful in the 21st century world of learning,” said state Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano. “Without Second Launch, many schools wouldn’t have the technology that is so necessary for students, and we are glad that we’ve found a cost-efficient way to provide these units to the schools—for free.”

So far, secondlaunchWV has served 33 counties in the state, with plans to reach all 55 counties. Future plans of the program also include the expansion of state and community partnerships. SecondlaunchWV is always looking for more agencies to donate their old computer systems. For more information on donating, contact Dave Cartwright at .

You can see secondlaunchWV in action by visiting wvde.state.wv.us/showcase.

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