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Statehouse beat: Officers have fast and slow starts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Unlike the new attorney general, who has inundated the media with press conferences and releases about personnel changes, the other new constitutional officer who took office last Monday has made hardly any changes.

As of Friday, Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick had submitted but one WV-11 (the state personnel form needed to hire, fire, retire, promote, demote or denote state employees.

(By contrast, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (with roughly half the personnel of the Ag Commission) has already filed 14 WV-11s.)

Helmick made his first hire Friday, naming Mike Teets of Hardy County as director of eastern operations, at a salary of $81,500. Teets, you may recall, had filed to run for agriculture commissioner in the GOP primary, then withdrew at the last minute, and threw his support to Helmick.)

Helmick said Teets will replace assistant agriculture commissioner Steve Miller. (Miller, you may also recall, was one of Helmick's opponents in the Democratic primary election and was endorsed by then-Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.

Otherwise, Helmick said deputy commissioner Janet Fisher is retiring, and said he plans to terminate Darius Walker, director of information technology.

(Walker, you may thricely recall, was critical of a column listing the sizable pay raises Douglass gave to top administrators prior to the general election, and also had some unkind words for the then commissioner-elect.)

Helmick said he wants to get settled into the new office and deal with pressing issues -- including finalizing the commission's 2013-14 budget requests -- before delving into any personnel changes.

***

Regarding last week's item about deteriorating conditions at the Charleston Amtrak station, I had forgotten that Mayor Danny Jones is a rail fan. In fact, last week, he was en route on the Southwest Chief and the Cardinal after taking his youngest son to Disneyland.

Jones said he's well aware of the issue, but said the problem is that both the station (owned by the Haddad family) and the platform (apparently owned by CSX) are private property.

The mayor did say he will have city engineers see if there's a way to correct the water runoff from the Ferry Street ramp, which is causing the damage to the platform.

***

Finally, who says a journalism degree isn't worth the paper it's printed on? Of the eight statewide elected officials who took oaths of office last Monday, two are graduates of the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism: Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry.

No other school or college can make that claim -- not even the WVU College of Law.

Counting Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick's alma mater of West Virginia Tech, which is now a branch campus of WVU, all but two of the eight officials sworn in Monday are West Virginia University graduates. The odd men out are: Auditor Glen Gainer (University of Charleston), and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (Rutgers).

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


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