Landlords Versus The People: Morgantown City Council Elections, 2017

Sam Wilkinson writes at thecityofmorgantown blog: 

Confirmed: Local Landlords Trying To Buy Morgantown’s City Council

Also: Some Local Landlords Appear To Be Especially Interested In Buying Morgantown’s City Council

Sam Wilkinson’s articles should be front page stories in the Dominion Post and also lead on WBOY.

This month’s Morgantown City Council Election has come down to this: the Landlords versus the People.

Candidates supported by individual donors:
Ward 1 – Rachel Fetty
Ward 2 – Bill Kawecki
Ward 3 – Ryan Wallace
Ward 4 – Jenny Selin
Ward 5 – Ron Dulaney Jr.
Ward 6 – Mark Brazaitis
Ward 7 – Barry Wendell

Candidates supported by a special interest landlord PAC:
Ward 1 – Ron Bane
Ward 2 – Al Bonner
Ward 3 – Wes Nugent
Ward 4 – Eldon Callen
Ward 5 – Kyle McAvoy
Ward 6 – Jay Redmond
Ward 7 – Bill Graham

The needs, priorities, and preferences of the public will be represented by Rachel Fetty, Bill Kawecki, Ryan Wallace, Jenny Selin, Ron Dulaney Jr., Mark Brazaitis, and Barry Wendell far moreso than by any other candidates.

Those other candidates have the financial backing of the NCWVBO landlord political action committee, showing where their allegiance lies.

Early voting is ongoing now through the end of voting on April 25.


Who Will Save The Forest?

Two wealthy owners in Morgantown have plans to destroy the Haymaker forest and fill it with houses and roads and other buildings, a lot of buildings and roads:

Haymaker Forest

Haymaker Forest is on the south side of Morgantown. It is a former steep sloped dairy farm with a brushy stream and the headwaters of a tributary of Aaron Creek, which flows into Deckers Creek very close to Marilla Park. Though privately owned, there are hiking trails already throughout Haymaker Forest. Beautiful hiking and biking trails could be expanded through Haymaker Forest extending from nearly-adjacent White Park (and its Cobun Creek connectors with the Mon Rail Trail) to Marilla Park, both at its upper and lower ends. Not, however, if this forest is destroyed for development.

Both the city of Morgantown and Monongalia County have state mandated (though nonbinding) Comprehensive Plans with land use maps designating the Haymaker Forest as a sensitive area prioritized for preservation. While very many areas in the city and county are designated for development by the Comprehensive Plans’ land use maps, this forest is not one of them. And with good reason. Some of the slopes are steep, and much of the forest remains designated as “farmland of statewide importance,” now become prime forest, potentially sheltering multiple protected species, including bats and clover.

Below are the developer/owners’ plans for the forest instead, the first diagram submitted to MUB and the second diagram submitted to the Morgantown Planning Commission:

subdivision plans (2)

planning commision subdivision

The owner developers intend to put in a lot of buildings and roads, despite the city and county comprehensive land use plans prioritizing the opposite. Below, a map in the Monongalia County Comprehensive Plan shows the area to consist entirely of severe slopes and “farmland of statewide importance” now forested that is not marked for any “development potential” despite very much of the map being marked for development (in yellow) – (Haymaker Forest is in the added red oval):

Conservation map county marked red circle

Similarly, the City of Morgantown’s Comprehensive Plan’s Land Management map prioritizes the Haymaker Forest for “reserve” and not for growth or development, in an almost totally developed city already:

Morgantown Comprehensive Plan Land Management map (2)

Unfortunately, though both the county and city Comprehensive Plans are mandated by the state to exist, they are not binding, even when there is overwhelming public support for those plans or portions of those plans, as in the case of preserving Haymaker Forest, and potentially incorporating it into the city and county parks system. It is the responsibility of local public officials and offices to make these plans reality. The city and county so far have refused to take such action though it has been urged and available. The Morgantown City Council refused to vote on and pass a user fee for park land acquisition (direct or indirect), and the Monongalia County Commission has not been receptive to any action for park land acquisition there. The city and county are refusing to live up to their Comprehensive Plans. In doing so, they are refusing to enhance and protect the ecological and social quality of life in the area. And for what? So that two wealthy owners can profit off of Haymaker Forest in wholesale disregard for public planning and public will? That is government for the One Percent, not government for the public and people in general.

Here is what government for the people would have long since been actively working to create out of Haymaker Forest, not the currently privately planned entirely inappropriate development and anti-public-planning mayhem but parks and trails for the public and for wildlife and ecology, for health and quality of life, a park and greenbelt initiative, from White Park to Marilla Park:

South Loop Morgantown Parks & Trails 1 (2)

This could be and should be part of a greater greenbelt initiative establishing the first major outer loop bike trails connecting Deckers Creek and the Monongahela River to trails through the surrounding city and county, possibly via the potential loops illustrated here:greater greenbelt initiative

Such a sweeping expansion of the park and trail system would greatly improve quality of life, health, and the reputation of the city and county, thereby attracting further investment financial and social. Saving the Haymaker Forest by various city and county initiatives should be a key part of area revitalization, preservation, and improvement. Enough with anti-public-planning. Enough with sitting on hands by local government officials, failing to do what should have been done decades ago, and could be done at virtually any time now. It is time to move forward in and around Haymaker Forest, and not backward into the chaos and destruction of similar previous inappropriate private development.

There is a much bigger picture to be considered in and around Haymaker Forest:

Mon_Valley_Green_Space (2)

Haymaker Forest, though largely in county jurisdiction, is partly in city of Morgantown jurisdiction and is engulfed on three sides by three of the city’s seven wards (1st, 2nd, and 6th wards – Councilors Bane, Kawecki, and Redmond). In other words, nearly a majority of the City Council wards border and engulf Haymaker Forest and yet Council has done essentially nothing to attempt to save it. Furthermore, Councilor Kawecki’s Ward partly contains Haymaker Forest. And yet where has a single Councilor even spoken up publicly on behalf of preserving Haymaker Forest? Why do they pass up opportunities to marshal funds for it? And the County Commissioners? Deafening silence, no action. Suddenly bond proposals for many things, but not this. Do they all side with the One Percent against the public on this matter of area and even regional importance? Representatives of multiple neighborhoods and Neighborhood Associations have appeared before City Council and County Commission and appealed for quality of life relief from the privately planned development by two wealthy owner developers, a private development that opposes both the city and the county’s thoughtful and publicly vetted Comprehensive Plans. Do the local government officials think they are elected to represent the interests of the One Percent over the interests and needs of the public, quality of life be damned? What can one reasonably conclude?

haymaker forest and wards labeled (3)

Haymaker Forest

forest header

forest superimpose

Developer’s map of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Haymaker Village and original submission to MUB – note the proposed thruway extending from Dorsey Avenue to Buckhannon Avenue:

subdivision plans (2)

MUB map of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Haymaker Village:

MUB mockup of Haymaker Village phases



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Morgantown Monongalia Annexation Plans?

Obviously the city’s main revenue problem is the vast amount of B&O tax, also property tax and now service fee tax, uncollected just outside the city boundaries yet within the concentrated urban population.

Where is the city’s annexation policy that the city’s Comprehensive Plan slates for immediate creation by the city council? (See LM 10.4 on page 106 of the Comprehensive Plan) (Also see LM 10.5 on page 106 and ED 6.2 on page 115).

Where are even the attempts at cooperative efforts of city-county annexation planning? Cooperative city-county annexation would 

1) stimulate the local/regional economy; 
2) vastly improve local/regional public revenue generation, for services and infrastructure;
3) provide zoning to manage growth; 
4) provide urban county residents with political representation where they lack it currently; 
5) improve city-county relations;
6) possibly prevent the large Haymaker Forest bordering 3 of the city’s 7 Wards from being destroyed by reckless growth entirely counter to the Plans;
7) greatly improve local/regional quality of life, in many ways. 

The alternative?: worsening local/regional chaos and crumbled conditions, greater ecological destruction and continued public poverty. 

Now that the local/regional population continues to boom, having grown more in the past 10-15 years in the immediate Morgantown area than it grew in the previous 50, while city and county budgets both remain at 2008 levels, there is no turning away from an organized series of cooperative city-county annexations, unless gross government dysfunction and continued public poverty is the goal. Remember: wide latitude is given to County Commission annexation decisions.

The city and the county lack money due largely to their own failings, and only in part due to the failings of the state. This financial void breaks down in part as follows, from local to state, immediate to longer term:

  • Morgantown’s lack of a dedicated revenue stream to parks and recreation, allowed by state code but non-existent locally (see Charleston County’s fantastic greenbelt example);
  • Morgantown’s lack of annexation of several commercial corridors and residential areas and more, which would generate tremendous revenue, especially B&O and property taxes but now also multi-million dollar service fees given the recent passage of the streets and police fee;
  • failure to incorporate Brookhaven (pop. 5000+) and Cheat Lake (pop 8000) as cities, or to annex into Morgantown;
  • lack of public banking (at the city, county, and/or state level) – the absence of a public bank bleeds away bank fees and bank profits from the public and undercuts community investment in multiple ways;
  • lack of progressive taxation, not least in regard to income and the severance tax. (This is the main state issue.)

Remedy the above, and the end result should mean a doubling or more of local/regional public revenue for services and infrastructure, coupled with the badly needed expansion of zoning that would greatly improve the public’s capacity to manage development and to protect green space and to better quality of life.

The city and county have no financial plan – nor zoning plan for managed development – remotely as promising or effective as the measures above.

The city and county need to act now to meet the growing pressures.

In a vast and woefully incomplete understatement, WVU’s College of Business and Economics notes at the very end of its 2014 report, “Morgantown, West Virginia: How Does the City’s Economy Compare to Other College Towns?”:

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Public Banks for Morgantown Monongalia West Virginia

An economist could analyze Morgantown’s CAFR statement (or as the city labels it, YEFR), possibly via the review process suggested by the Public Banking Institute, below, to determine what funds the city could use to capitalize a public bank, and then to come up with a brief cost/benefit analysis showing the impact a public bank could have. Same for county and state where a public bank might make more or less or equal sense.

Largely due to the 2008 economic crisis, there’s a movement toward public banks in the US spear-headed in part by the Public Banking Institute founded in 2011

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Unprecedented Morgantown Monongalia Population Growth

There is a planning and demographic crisis that is smashing the greater Morgantown area, at the same time that the state is being swept up in an intensification of the economic crisis.

Compared to the state economic crisis, which is mostly hitting southern West Virginia, the crisis pounding Monongalia County and Morgantown is unprecedented, and it’s as complex, newer, and less well known and less understood than the state crisis. This new and local crisis is being driven by a recent unprecedented population surge in Monongalia County, virtually all of it in the greater Morgantown area.

In the past 15 years (2000-2014), Monongalia County – in fact, the greater Morgantown area – grew by more than 22,000 people, which is more than it grew in the previous 50 years (1950-2000). During those previous 50 years the county grew by less than 21,000 people. Since 2000, the county has grown by more than that 22,000 people, and most of this massive population growth has occurred in the past 10 years, and virtually all of this unprecedented population growth has occurred in the greater Morgantown area.

And yet, amazingly, in the past 6 years, since 2008, throughout the peak of the population boom, the budgets of both the City and the County have essentially flat-lined, despite the area being in the throes of an unprecedented population explosion.

Furthermore, WVU College of Business and Economics predicts that this population boom will continue at nearly the same rate, while merely cheering it. Additionally, nearby Preston County has been growing its population nearly as fast as Monongalia County, adding further pressure on the Morgantown area. (Also, WVU student body enrollment essentially doubled to 29,000 between 1970 and 2014.) Morgantown’s population finally climbed about 5 percent between 2010 and 2014 to 31,073 people, while the county population continued to climb at a higher rate (to a total by 2014, as noted, of 103,463). Because Morgantown’s annexation efforts remain anemic, almost non-existent, the city is starved for funds and the chaotic, congested, degraded results in the city and adjacent county areas are plain to see, though there is much unnecessary invisible suffering too. Read the rest of this entry »

Straight to Worse


Take a close look at what your elected officials have achieved compared to what they could have or should have achieved. West Virginia is a resource rich state made poor by corporate state exploitation.

Then take a look at the political parties who have aided and abetted in this disaster. In general, what you will find is that the Democrats are bad and the Republicans  are worse, all the while progressive voices and candidates are stifled and ignored – by corporate media, by the schools, and by many other social mechanisms.

The recent election all across the state has seen a shift from bad to worse. Desperate  and deceived people have made desperate and false choices. Bad wasn’t good enough, clearly. Unfortunately, the change has now been made for the worse. Russell Mokhiber’s look at politics in Morgan County WV makes this clear why:

When Decent Family People Push Cruel Anti-Family Policies


The one thing you hear about Charles Trump, Daryl Cowles and Saira Blair — Morgan County’s elected representatives to Charleston — is that they are decent family people.

And who could argue?

From all indications, they are just that.

A campaign mailer sent to Morgan County residents last month shows each surrounded by their family members — and promoting “conservative family values.”

But Trump, Cowles and Blair are all advocates of cruel policies that will hurt working West Virginia families.

All oppose raising the minimum wage.

And all favor union busting legislation that will reduce wages and income, increase poverty and infant mortality rates, and lead to higher rates of death on the job.

The union busting legislation — known by it’s corporate propaganda term — right to work laws — will be pushed by the new regime in Charleston early next year.

In the past, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has come out against this legislation, but given the new political dynamics in Charleston, the inside betting is that Tomblin will buckle and go with the flow. (In West Virginia, it’s not about Democrat or Republican. It’s about corporate power. For more on this, see Ken Ward Jr.’s recent piece at his blog Coal Tattoo.)

The union busting legislation that Trump, Cowles and Blair all support creates what is known as a free rider problem.

It would allow West Virginia workers to opt out of paying union dues — while at the same time benefiting from union negotiating power that delivers higher wages and safer workplaces.

The non paying workers in effect get a free ride.

True conservatives are opposed to right to work laws. They argue that the legislation represents government interference with corporations’ ability to freely negotiate contracts with workers.

Even Milton Friedman, the father of the conservative Chicago School of Economics and author of the classic Capitalism and Freedomopposed right to work laws.

Liberals argue that the legislation allows bosses to fire workers without cause.

“‘Right to work’ sounds like a law guaranteeing you a job, or at least protecting your job once you’ve got it,” Michael Kinsley wrote in a piece in Bloomberg News titled The Liberal Case Against Right to Work Laws. “A lot of the propaganda by the Chamber of Commerce and similar business groups is about so-called forced unionism. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. The main effect of right-to-work laws is to outlaw regulations of employment and allow your boss to fire you without cause.”

Kinsley makes the point that under the union busting legislation, “people could enjoy the benefits of union membership, including negotiation of wages, without sharing in the cost.”

“Not only was this unfair to those who did pay their share, but it made organizing a union significantly harder,” Kinsley writes. “Why should I pay union dues if my fellow workers don’t?”

“Right to work” sounds so pleasing — you have a right to work.

But there’s an iron fist in that velvet glove.

Right wing politicians use the laws to weaken worker power.

By weakening unions, these laws — currently in 24 states — lower wages and living standards for all workers in those states.

Workers in these 24 states earn on average $5,680 less year than workers in other states.

So, take another look at that mailer received.

It is punctuated with a quote from Ronald Reagan, who, as an actor, served as president of Hollywood’s most powerful union, the Screen Actors Guild, from 1947 to 1951.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” Reagan is quoted as saying. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Free from the corporate state, that is — the corporate state which Trump, Cowles and Blair represent.

Nice family people.

Cruel anti-family policies.

Russell Mokhiber edits Morgan County, USA.

So what’s next, West Virginia, now that you’ve gone from bad to worse?

An all too predictable forthcoming shock of reality.

If the Democratic Party wants to have a future in West Virginia, it will have to stop acting bad and worse. It will have to adopt policies that far better impact West Virginians.

So, what is to be done?

For one thing, the state of WV needs to create its own bank, modeled after North Dakota’s; locally, the city (of Morgantown) needs to push for major annexation; and Monongalia County needs to stop handing large gifts to WVU and big business. Same old story. Many other possibilities exist, including doing what other cities and counties do: taking further control of the utilities and communications, thereby creating good local jobs while saving consumers money.

Economist Ellen Brown does great work on public banks. The City of Morgantown should start its own bank too but look for hell to freeze first. The city ought to go ahead and found one though if for no other reason than to push the state to found its own bank in an effort to head off any wave of municipalities from doing so. States and municipalities need money. There is no more reasonable place to get it than through starting their own banks. North Dakota is a tremendous example.

West Virginia’s massive Rainy Day fund is a complete and total waste. It could be used to rebuild the infrastructure of the state and fund many great social needs. If the state established a bank, it would not need any Rainy Day fund at all, because it could rely on the bank in case of any emergency or shortfall. Just like the state of North Dakota does, though only North Dakota, for now.

Nearly two dozen states have introduced bills to establish a state owned bank like North Dakota’s bank. West Virginia should both introduce and pass such a bill to begin genuinely turning the state around. Notice that this is a way to help lift people up by using the people’s own bootstraps (bankstraps). Now how can even a Democrat or a Republican object to that?

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The Acts Of Violence On Gameday In Morgantown West Virginia


Who is responsible for the violence and mayhem on WVU football game days?:

1) West Virginia University: the football game itself is a huge West Virginia University event that is violent and that spawns multiple forms of violence

2) the corporate media: the thug talk in the media — the sports shows and the sports reporters with their violent metaphors lavishly praising WVU players who “punch them [the opponents] in the mouth” dramatically contribute to the culture of violence in and around football games

3) the state of West Virginia — the state forcibly bans mellowing marijuana while allowing the far more dangerous and unhealthy and belligerent-making alcohol, “the 800 pound gorilla in the room,” which facilitates the atmosphere and culture of football game day violence

4) WVU students, fans, others — the post-game arsonists, vandals, and rioters embody the violent strains of football game day culture

5) the City of Morgantown / police — multiple reports of uncontrolled and inappropriate police violence on football game day are a surprise to no one

Notice that without the WVU football game itself, there would be no game day violence. Therefore the primary responsibility for the violence lies with West Virginia University, the institution. WVU holds myriad events that neither perpetuate nor spawn violence. Football games are a different story. To get rid of the violence, WVU could get rid of football. Short of eliminating football game days, the football fan (fanatic) culture needs to be changed, and that won’t be changed without changing in significant degrees football and university, social and media culture. West Virginia University, the state of West Virginia, and the corporate media bear heavy responsibility for the game day violence, a responsibility that they all fail to acknowledge, let alone act on. In fact, WVU, the state, and the dominant media busy themselves pointing the finger elsewhere. And once again, who gets the finger? WVU students mostly. WVU students are easy targets who have been set-up to explode: the students are as a group deeply and wrongfully debt-laden, too often slum-housed, primed by an especially violent and lengthy sports event, and outrageously subject to pot criminalization, all of which contributes to an explosive concoction of frenzied excitement, stress, tension, and lunacy – painfully illuminated everywhere now on social media.

Literally for decades, West Virginia University, the dominant (corporate) media, and the state, which are in large part responsible for the football game day violence, have combined to accept no responsibility for causing and perpetuating this culture of violence that they hypocritically bemoan. Until that absurd reality changes, no meaningful talk about solutions can begin, nor can fundamental solutions be reached — solutions such as the following:

The media: Sports shows and sports reporters should eliminate their cruddy rhetoric glorifying violence. All the war talk, the battle talk, the fight talk, the weapons talk – get rid of that giddy toxic babble. “Why are some WVU students so mindlessly violent?” moan the news talk show hosts, and then they and their media colleagues turn around and mindlessly glamorize WVU “smashmouth football” and the like. Reference to violence in football should be used in honest and responsible reporting, rather than in irresponsible thug-speak. Football is clearly too often a brutal thing. Call it for what it is but don’t laud it. In fact, the violence in football ought to be condemned. Badly needed changes in the sport will then begin to better suggest themselves and be sooner accepted. The media reports are utterly hypocritical and destructive in decrying one form of violence while glorifying another. The media needs to change.

The state: West Virginia state legislators should immediately do what has been done in states such as Colorado and Washington and elsewhere: decriminalize and legalize marijuana use. Better that there be relaxed and mellow crowds than pugnacious and crazy rioters. By now, legalization of marijuana is favored by the majority of people nationwide. Big alcohol and big tobacco – the big-monied killers – have long been the primary opponents of pot legalization. Anyone serious about reducing violence among revelers during party time knows this: better high than drunk. Marijuana use is not an ideal form of recreation but compared to “the 800 pound gorilla in the room,” as WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris calls alcohol, marijuana is safer and less unhealthy – yet harshly criminalized, pushing students toward the more dangerous and violence inducing alcohol. The state needs to change.

West Virginia University:  Where to begin? The university bears the biggest responsibility and the most complex responsibility for game day violence. After all, no game, no game day violence. The university is the entity hosting and hyping the orgy of violence that is a college football game. So make no mistake, the game day fires and violence downtown is the responsibility of West Virginia University, the institution. The WVU administration gets a flaming F for fostering the chaos. The WVU administration can no longer sweep the insanity under the rug by blaming a few bad apples, because the reality of thousands of students with nothing to do and nowhere to go on game day is all too visible on social media. The reality is that WVU game day culture is bankrupt and destructive. Meanwhile, the bankers sit in their blue and gold offices evidently twiddling their thumbs and promising – extremely counterproductively, thanks – to get tough. WVU toughness has caused the problem in the first place. Football is a lost day in an academic environment during which masses of excited students have nowhere to go but the streets. What might be a day of creative carnival becomes instead one of violent confrontation – in keeping with the brutal spectacle that is football.

You know what people say: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or more like a ton. To help minimize the damage of football game days, there should be university subsidized concerts and other events – before and after and during all games, home and away – at the Coliseum, at the Creative Arts Center, in the Mountainlair, in the Student Rec Center, on the streets, and wherever necessary to help students relax, release steam, express their exuberance. It is long since time to do something for the students at large with all that blood money derived from TV sports contracts and game ticket sales. West Virginia University creates the bare and dry woods conditions set to burn and then puffs out its chest and blames the students who fling matches that result in conflagration. Sorry, ultimate fault lies with WVU administration for fostering a dangerous, mindless, and pointless game day culture. WVU administration has proven for decades to be either too ignorant, too heartless, or too incompetent to make the changes that need to be made. What will change that sorry condition? Not the equally inept WVU Board of Governors, surely. The 800 million pound gorilla in the room is the WVU administration which has been failing the WVU students miserably for decades. The WVU administration needs to change. Otherwise, it’s worthy of expulsion. Or maybe, instead of expelling the negligent WVU administrators and the WVU student rioters, those two hapless groups should get together and start doing some badly needed community service, before it is too late again.

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