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Statehouse beat: Less funds may not be such a bad thing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When work begins later this month fixing up the Governor's Mansion, funding won't be coming from the Executive Mansion Renovation Fund.

Between 2007-2009, under the auspices of the previous occupants, the fund raised and spent more than $1.42 million to repair, renovate and furnish the mansion.

However, the most recent IRS 990 form shows that the fund contains only about $1,100, and that there hasn't been any fundraising to speak of since 2009.

Which may be good, since critics of the fund -- set up in 2007 at the behest of Joe and Gayle Manchin -- argued it provided a backdoor for corporate sponsors, limited in what they can give in campaign contributions, to give unlimited amounts of money.

The work this time won't be anywhere near as extensive as the Manchin's $3.36 million renovation, which entirely redid the second and third floors.

The largest single contract this time around, for repair and repainting of all exterior wood surfaces, has been awarded to W.Q. Watters at an amount of $135,000.

A RFQ for a contract for interior painting and woodwork repair is currently out for bids, and other contracts, including replacing sunroom windows and repairing front door sidelights and transom, are pending.

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Some of the last expenditures out of the Executive Mansion Fund were $25,864 for murals and painting, $3,000 for accounting, and $115 in legal fees.

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Last week, General Services Division Director Greg Melton got permission from the Capitol Building Commission to cut down six Bartlett pear trees that lined two sides of the north plaza, near the Lincoln statue.

Official word was that the trees were damaged by leakage of chemically-treated water from the two nearby fountains. However, GSD workers say they were told to cut them down so they wouldn't block sightlines for the Sesquicentennial concerts and 3-D film presentations on the Capitol's north steps this week -- particularly to make sure they wouldn't block camera crews filming those events ...

I took a look at the trees in question (before their demise Friday), and while I'm no horticulturist, except for one sickly tree, they all looked green and healthy to me.

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Speaking of the Sesquicentennial, to put the $300,000 the state is spending on the 150th birthday celebration in perspective, keep in mind the state is spending six times that much -- $1.85 million -- to be a primary sponsor of the Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament next month.

Heck, the $462,079 salary Jim Justice draws as president, treasurer and director of Old White Charities -- the nonprofit organization Justice set up to run the golf tournament -- is bigger than the state's Sesquicentennial budget ...

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Speaking of the Capitol Building Commission, Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury has had an ongoing struggle to get permission to polish marble walls that are being cleaned in the East Wing.

Commissioners have been reluctant to give Canterbury the OK, since architect Cass Gilbert's specifications call for the marble in the East and West wings to be honed, not polished.

Gilbert may have wanted the dull, matte look to draw a distinction between the wings, originally intended to house offices of state agencies, as opposed to the main Capitol, where the Legislature and constitutional officers were to be located.

Canterbury contends that it's a matter of taste, not design. He noted that Gilbert also called for bare bulbs in many of the Capitol light fixtures. (When the Capitol was being designed, electric lighting was still fairly new, and the style of the time was to have bare bulbs and exposed cords and wiring to accentuate it.)

I suggested he could have also pointed out that when the Capitol was designed, it included only a couple of women's restrooms (or "retiring rooms") in the entire building, since it was presumed there would never be very many female legislators, state employees, or visitors.

Or, for that matter, that the building was not ADA accessible. In both cases, the Capitol has been modified from Gilbert's design to reflect changing times.

Bottom line, as Canterbury points out, people today expect marble to be shiny, and when it's dull, they assume its dirty or otherwise poorly maintained.

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Finally, I rarely read press releases from beginning to end, so it was city editor Greg Moore who brought to my attention the header on a press release from first lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin -- which spelled the first lady's first name with one "n."

I called her spokeswoman, Tina Amburgey, to verify it wasn't some sort of cost-saving measure enacted by the administration.

Amburgey assured me the headers were provided by the company that does webpage design for the governor's office, and that typo would be corrected.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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