A Progressive Wave

Long overdue, a progressive wave in the state and nation. Rolling Stone reports:

A Progressive Revolt Is Brewing in West Virginia

There is a revolt brewing in West Virginia politics. Last Friday Lissa Lucas, an author and celebrated backyard chicken farmer from Cairo, in the northwestern part of the state, brought the fight to the floor of the state capitol. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee was hearing comments on House Bill 4268, legislation that would enable oil and gas companies to drill on private property as long as three-quarters of the mineral rights owners okayed the operation. The bill, which critics like Lucas have called an effort by “our government…to allow corporations to steal our property and trespass on it without our permission,” also grants the oil and gas industry a number of other measures its lobbyists have long sought from the legislature.

“I’d…like to point out that the people who are going to be speaking in favor of this bill are all going to be paid by the industry, and the people who are going to be voting on this bill are also often paid by the industry,” Lucas said from the podium on the house floor last Friday. “I have to keep it short simply because the public only gets a minute 45 [seconds] while lobbyists can throw a gala at the Marriott with whiskey and wine and talk for hours to the delegates.”

Lucas then listed the publicly-available oil and gas-related campaign contributions for Representative Charlotte Lane and Judiciary Committee Chair John Shott: “First Energy, $2,000, Appalachian Power, $2,000, Steptoe & Johnson – that’s a gas and oil law firm – $2,000, Consol Energy, $1,000, EQT, $1,000, and I could go on…” As Lucas began to list campaign contributions to Jason Harshbarger, a Republican delegate, Shott interrupted her and asked that “no personal comments be made.” She attempted to finish her remarks, as a pair of security guards approached the podium and explained that she could not continue talking. “Drag me out, then,” said Lucas. As the men hauled her from the chamber, she cried “Montani Semper Liberi!” – Mountaineers are always free.

The episode is all the more significant because Lissa Lucas is running for West Virginia House of Delegate’s in the state’s seventh district, which is currently held by Harshbarger, and lists property rights and getting money out of politics as two pillars of her campaign. While national pundits continuously play on the state’s historic shift from blue to red, the populist call of the Bernie Sanders’ movement – that concerned citizens can and should get more involved in politics – has struck a major nerve. The goal for many of West Virginia’s progressives is not even beating Republicans like Harshbarger; it is to reform a Democratic Party they see as corrupt and out-of-touch.  

“I remember knowing for a long time that the underlying problem to everything is how money in politics is used to manipulate people,” said Selena Vickers, a West Virginia educator and social worker who is running for the West Virginia House of Delegates in District 32. “Lissa is a friend of mine,” she added. “We are both committed to fixing the [Democratic National Committee], which we know is broken.”

Vickers says she was electrified by the Bernie Sanders movement, and spent much of 2016 organizing for his campaign. “Bernie invited me to a revolution, and I showed up,” said Vickers, in a video she made about the experience. She provided a list of some 31 progressive democrats running for congress at the state or national level this year in West Virginia, including Richard Ojeda, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Kendra Fershee, a law professor, Sammi Brown, a former AFL-CIO field organizer, James Cameron Elam an openly gay candidate running for House of Delegates and Paula Jean Swearengin, a passionate West Virginia social justice and environmental organizer who is running to unseat the state’s powerful, and notoriously unreliable Democratic senator, Joe Manchin. “We’ve ended up with politicians like Joe Manchin in West Virginia because we’ve been told that’s the best Democrat we can have, and we vote for them out of fear,” says Chris Pennington, a father of three from Oak Hill, West Virginia, who also campaigned for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and is presently running for the state’s Democratic Executive Committee. “People here in West Virginia just didn’t have the inspiration to run before,” says Pennington. “Now a lot of them do.”

House Bill 4268 is expected to pass in both West Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate, and be signed into law by the Republican governor, Jim Justice. The bill would take effect this July. Lucas plans to keep calling out legislators on their campaign finances till Election Day. “I won’t be taking money from SuperPACs,” reads a flier promoting her campaign. “I don’t care if I offend the people who are working for those interests by telling them” and “I’m not abandoning my neighbors just so you can line your pockets.”


A Wave Election and Annexation

At his City of Morgantown blog, Sam Wilkinson asks if to win local elections, “Is it important to have been born in Morgantown?” and he answers “No.”


In fact, it appeared important to NOT have been born in Morgantown to win the recent Morgantown City Council election. That’s what the results showed: Don’t be born in Morgantown if you want to get many votes from current Morgantown residents. Yes, patriotism (outsiders are evil!) is the last refuge of the landlords (the One Percent and their fellow travelers). Though not much refuge after all in a city and surrounds now full of “outsiders”! So who really are the “outsiders”…? The old-guard “insiders” with their skimpy ideas and baseless politics are inside what after all, other than the ideology of the One Percent?

Wilkinson adds, “…there are functionally two Morgantowns: the place we understand Morgantown to be, and the place the lines actually define. It is an absurdly stupid thing, and almost impossible to fix.”

Except that things have changed. It’s obvious now that the only way forward is to fix the broken city boundaries. Fix-minded representatives just swept the City Council. Fix-minded representatives can sweep the County Commission too. It will be more difficult but with work is possible. A corner has been turned.

Charles Town, WV is currently annexing sections of Jefferson County such that the city of Charles Town will grow in one fell swoop by 70 percent, and increase in population by 27 percent. Charles Town is adding over 4 square miles to its current 5.8 square miles and upping its population from 5,889 to 8,063. The city of Charles Town explains how and why it is expanding in clear detail at its city website. In comparison, Morgantown’s neighbor city Westover, in its recent and supposedly impossible annexation of the Morgantown Mall and surrounds, added only about 10 percent to the size of Westover, and very little population. Charles Town, with crazy borders like Morgantown, is on the verge of going far beyond Westover’s example, and both examples make a good model for Morgantown.

Charles Town has the advantage of having had Jefferson County in 2003 approve urban growth boundaries (UGBs), allowing the city to annex at will in the future within those boundaries. The future is now in Charles Town. These are the conversations that responsible, forward-looking leaders are having now in West Virginia. These are the good, even great, actions they are achieving. This will be among their most impressive of public legacies. A legacy that greatly benefits city, county, region, and state all.

For Morgantown to model exactly after Charles Town, by state law Monongalia County would first have to establish county-wide zoning, a county zoning ordinance. Then UGBs could be established by the County, perhaps based on the good “Conceptual Urban Growth Boundary” detailed in Morgantown’s state mandated Comprehensive Plan, Appendix A, page 19.

However, there is no need at all to wait for county-wide zoning, that is, a county-wide zoning ordinance (currently lacking in Monongalia County – a gross negligence). Though UGBs fall within the rubric of state code “minor boundary adjustments” (MBAs), MBAs can be enacted by city/county cooperation without UGB designations – just as in Westover’s annexation of the Morgantown Mall and surrounds. Westover’s annexation was necessarily approved (per state code) by the Monongalia County Commission, in a 2-1 vote. The lone County Commissioner who voted against the Westover annexation, Eldon Callen, has been since voted out of office and also lost in his recent attempt to win a City Council seat.

There is every reason for Morgantown to pursue an MBA or a series of MBAs immediately (no legal reason not to), for immediate implementation. Just as Westover is now collecting city sustaining B&O taxes from the Morgantown Mall annexation, so too should the city of Morgantown expand and collect and bring public representation to the masses of unrepresented citizens who currently go without a voice in the city even though they live in urban pockets well within Morgantown’s functional, if not legal, boundary.

It is not asking too much for the city of Morgantown and the county of Monongalia to catch up to Westover locally, and to catch up to Charles Town in the eastern part of the state. Such responsible action would be hugely beneficial to quality of life and to much greater economic activity and prosperity (at the local, regional, and even state level). But the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission will have to stop sitting on their hands, or stop clamping their mouths, and start leading vocally and by acting on this. Failing this, they should be replaced come election one by one in favor of those who are willing to do what is so greatly beneficial to the public in the local cities, counties, and state. Things have changed. So must the leadership.

Morgantown should expand its boundaries to bring political representation to the tens of thousands of people who live in urban pockets in the county (technically) and who currently go unrepresented by the city that they realistically live within. The vast bulk of the businesses in the county along the city’s crazy borders would not be here otherwise, would not exist without the city, and yet they do not pay B&O tax like the city businesses that support the city all the while. The result is unfair and a gutting of the local economy which would boom with the stimulus of a city budget that is double, triple, or quadruple its current size. A great economic stimulus would result if the city boundaries were properly fleshed out and newly enabled city initiatives were undertaken. The recently implemented city worker user fee could then be cut or reduced or redirected to, say, parks and rec which would also improve the economy, along with quality of life.

The current County Commissioners and other holdbacks too often appear willing only to point to the airport/business park and riverfront development as the main new efforts of economic stimulus to be pushed in the area. This amounts to basically a con job, a great little con, one that couples with their blaming of WVU and the state for assorted problems. This is often done to divert from their own County negligence. The City Council has done this too. These are negligent and derelict positions compared to pursuing the great public benefits of annexation, which the County Commission is de facto blocking and which the City Council has not remotely led on. Airport business park and riverfront efforts are important, as are equity from WVU and the state, but compared to city and regional benefits from serious annexation…benefits including boosted revenue, jobs, economy, quality of life (zoning, representation, parks, services, utilities, infrastructure, etc)…those 4 diversionary issues are mere tiddlywinks, a pittance. Serious border expansion approximating Morgantown’s Conceptual Urban Growth Boundary, at least, is the minimum that responsible City and County leadership should call for and act toward. Further great initiative is readily at hand.

It is long since time for the conversation to grow up among the elected leaders. Otherwise, the County Commission and the City Council will continue to pose as begging wards of mighty WVU and the state. The City Council is moving forward. The County Commissioners will need to join City Councilors in leading on annexation – or be swept out. Patriotism may be the last refuge of the landlords, but after that last refuge, as we’ve seen with the recent City Council election, the landlord mindset figureheads are simply removed from office, when positions that are vacuous, damaging, or otherwise unpopular are revealed for what they are.

Political power consists of opinions and ideas, also money. The money hasn’t gotten out from under the boots of the landlords much, but a lot of opinions and ideas have, and thus so has the power at the city level at least. We’ll see about the county level next. And the state, and beyond.

Is it asking too much of the local leaders of the city of Morgantown and in the county of Monongalia to try to catch up to the leaders of Westover, Charles Town, and Jefferson County? Far from it. A corner has been turned. The voters now seem intent on making certain that local officials get up to speed, just as the recent impressive election results have shown.

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 »