2 leaders vow to win trust in scandal-weary Mingo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Teresa Maynard and Mike Carter know what the scandal-weary residents of Mingo County must be thinking: Only people who are connected to the problems could get appointed to powerful positions in a government now best known for misconduct and corruption.
They're determined to prove the cynics wrong.
"I think the naysayers, when they actually see what I can do over the next year, will be more than satisfied," said Maynard, sworn in this week as county prosecutor to replace her disgraced former boss, Michael Sparks. She vows to change how things have been done but said she knows it will take a lot to earn trust.
"I got where I am today because I worked hard and I am an honest person," Maynard said. "But what I do is worth more than what I say. They need to see what I can do. And I can do this."
The County Commission also replaced one of its own this week, appointing Carter, a longtime school board member, to fill the seat of Dave Baisden.
Both Sparks and Baisden resigned last month after they were charged in separate cases that grew out of a continuing federal corruption investigation.
Carter and Maynard told The Associated Press in phone interviews that they understand outsiders generally associate the county with three things -- the legendary feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, the bloody labor battles of the 1920s as coal mines first unionized, and corruption.
This year, the scandals unfolding in the county across the Tug Fork River from Kentucky have touched every level of the criminal justice system.
Longtime Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for misconduct on the bench that could send him to prison. Ex-prosecutor Michael Sparks is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy Nov. 18 and has lost his law license.
Along with Sparks and Thornsbury, Baisden was implicated in a scheme that federal prosecutors say was designed to protect former Sheriff Eugene Crum from revelations he'd bought drugs.
But Baisden is awaiting sentencing on an unrelated extortion charge after threatening a business operator who refused to sell him tires at a government discount.
And the sheriff at the center of several scandals is dead after an unrelated April shooting, with a former boxing student now charged with first-degree murder. Tennis Melvin Maynard's father first described his son as mentally disturbed but later alleged the sheriff had molested the suspect when he was a teenager.
Maynard, who is not related to the new prosecutor, is awaiting trial.
Thornsbury, the county's only judge for 16 years, also is accused of enlisting a state trooper, a former emergency management director and others in repeated attempts to frame his secretary's husband for false crimes.
Prosecutors say the judge abused his power solely to eliminate a romantic rival. They plan to dismiss those charges in exchange for his guilty plea in the other conspiracy case.
All in all, the scandals gave both Teresa Maynard and Carter pause about volunteering to lead, they told the AP.
Maynard, 43, applied at 3:30 p.m. the day applications were due. She said she ultimately committed after contemplating the oath she swore in 2005, when she became assistant prosecutor.
"I've always done everything that I thought was appropriate to support the laws of the state," she said, "and I feel like that kind of creates an obligation for me to step up."
Maynard had a private practice and served as county attorney from 2001 to 2005. She grew up in Lenore and said she has no plans to leave. She lives near her childhood home with her husband and 9-year-old son.
"It's important to me that my son see that I'm trying to do what's right and make this a better place for him," she said.
Mingo County has just 26,000 residents and is shrinking steadily as the coal industry contracts. U.S. Census data show that more than 2,400 people have left since 2010. With high unemployment and chronic poverty, the social problems of child abuse and neglect, drug abuse and crime have grown rampant.
Maynard says their connections to the justice system require that she be visible and accessible, so she will take her office places it hasn't been before, including schools.
"We owe it to our kids to give them something better," she said.
Carter is a 61-year-old retired coal miner who has served three terms on the school board since 2002. Born in Iaeger, he grew up in Mingo and settled at Pigeon Creek.
He volunteered for years at Burch High School, worked three decades in the mines and even ran a fitness center. He knows so many people that he hesitated to seek the commission seat for fear of hurting someone's feelings.
But 14 people applied, "so that may be a good sign that the people of Mingo County are tired of what's going on," he said.
Carter said he won't be pushed around by any political faction.
"I'm not pushing any agenda. I'm not part of any team," he said. "If you're out for the betterment of Mingo County, why do you want to be divided?"
Nor does Carter see himself as a politician: Above all, he is a devout Christian who says he will answer to God for his behavior -- and nothing would make him jeopardize that.
"I'm praying for godly wisdom, that I'll make good decisions," he said. "My dad was gone at 63 of heart attack, and I don't know how much longer I've got. But I want to finish well."