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Statehouse beat: Public radio botches a break

Catching up on some items from when I was gone ...

Next week is the big Educational Broadcasting Authority "visionary committee" meeting where West Virginia Public Broadcasting head Dennis Adkins is to present an update on the financial issues facing state public broadcasting, along with his proposals to keep WVPB solvent long-term.

Meanwhile, I'm told employee morale at the headquarters on 600 Capitol St. is fading. (Then again, the only newsroom I've ever known of that had high employee morale was WJM-TV on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show.")

After the June 29 derecho, the management decision was made that West Virginia Public Radio lacked the manpower and resources to do extended coverage of the storm and the recovery efforts statewide.

As has been noted, one of the shortcomings of the state's recovery efforts was the inability to get communications out to the storm victims left without power for days on end.

While some public radio towers were knocked off the air by the storm, some staffers and others believe public radio botched an opportunity to be the statewide clearinghouse for storm recovery information.

Apparently that included the governor's office, which reportedly dispatched Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin to meet with Adkins and James Muhammad, director of radio services, to express those concerns.

Also, there was more recent employee consternation that Bill Acker, director of broadcasting, obtained the call letters of WWHA (for William H. Acker) for the new public radio affiliate in Webster Springs.

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Over at Health and Human Resources, John Law, assistant secretary for communications, Susan Perry, deputy secretary for legal services, and general counsel Jennifer Taylor are still on paid administrative leave pending reassignment, stemming from the July 17 dust-up with Acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo, over the concerns they raised on awarding a $485,000 a year DHHR advertising contract to high-bidder Fahlgren Mortine.

(Actually, the contract is worth considerably more than that, as reported here, since a number of state agencies -- including the DMV, Department of Education, Insurance Commission, and attorney general's office -- piggyback on the contract for their advertising needs.)

Evidently, its not the first time the three had raised objections with Fucillo over the awarding of DHHR contracts.

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Speaking of state advertising contracts, there were two bidders for the contract for advertising and public relations for the state Treasurer John Perdue's office: Bulldog Creative of Huntington, which has had the contract since 2008, and the Manahan Group, which had the contract prior to 2008.

The bid proposals are being evaluated and scored, so it could be weeks yet before the contract is awarded.

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Once again, the state Ethics Commission has ruled that the Ethics Act prohibits public employees and elected officials from endorsing products or companies or appearing in commercials or advertisements (other than political ads).

As general counsel Joan Parker put it, it would be hard to contemplate a circumstance where a public employee could appear in a commercial without violating the Ethics Act.

Which raises the age-old question of how state college football and basketball coaches -- who are technically state employees -- can be paid to appear in commercials, or have endorsement deals with companies such as Nike.

When then-commissioner Brad Crouser raised the issue a decade ago, the explanation was that no one had ever filed an ethics complaint against any coach, and that the Ethics Commission lacks the power to initiate its own investigations.

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Finally, it seems somebody took President Obama's "If you've got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made it happen" comments way too seriously.

That somebody is state Board of Education president (and Fairmont businessman) L. Wade Linger Jr., who posted a three-page letter "thanking" the president for helping his businesses, and then proceeding to list every federal, state, and local tax and fee that his companies pay.

That includes everything from $25 for an annual state business license, to payroll dedications for Social Security and Medicare, to payments for Workers Compensation and state unemployment insurance coverage, to state and federal gas taxes, and even down to 911 fees on phone bills and landing fees on airline tickets.

"So thank you, Mr. President, for reminding me of all the ways government jumps in to build businesses in America. How thoughtless and selfish we small business people have been to think we did it on our own," Linger stated in his manifesto.

"And if by some miracle, we can absorb all of the government 'help,' overcome all of the other business challenges, become one in three [companies] to stay in business and eke out a profit, we will pay nearly half to the state and federal government in income taxes. So please Mr. President, tell me more about how I need to do more to pay my fair share," he continued.

Among the tax burdens listed by Linger are various property taxes, which seems somewhat incongruous, since property taxes obviously are the primary funding source for the state public schools system.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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