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Ron Gregory: Huntington-area questions keep popping up

April 13, 2019

Does a Republican majority keep Republicans from gathering at the Cabell County Courthouse? Is the Hatfield business park on W.Va. 2 the first “shovel ready” property certified in the state? What’s happened with the Huntington city fire trucks and rescue boat?

These items only touch the surface of questions readers ask me about quite often. All spark public interest.

The assertion that the Cabell County Commission welcomes the county Democrat Executive Committee to hold its meetings at the courthouse while barring Republicans from doing the same is just not true, according to newly-elected GOP Commissioner Kelli Sabonya.

When I asked Sabonya about the often-repeated rumor, she said nobody had mentioned it to her during her three months at the courthouse.

“I never lock my door,” the former state legislator said. “I truly maintain an open door policy. Anybody can contact me and I will always listen. I’m not sure why someone, if they believe we (the commission) have an anti-GOP policy, would not contact me about it.”

Republican County Chair T-Anne See said her committee has met at the courthouse and was never turned down. She said some members preferred meeting somewhere that allowed the meeting to occur the ground floor.

As far as the Route 2 business park is concerned, it has been classified by the state Development Office as “ready to go.” According to Huntington Area Development Council President David Lieving, this gives the Cabell site an advantage over locations that require infrastructure development in order to accommodate a plant or other business.

Now, as Gov. Jim Justice is so fond of saying, the fire equipment is a bit more complex.

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By now, anyone remotely interested in the situation knows that two large fire trucks and a rescue boat utilized by the Huntington Fire Department were found inoperable a few months back.

It is safe to say the discovery was an embarrassment for the administration of Mayor Steve Williams, although he is certainly not expected to provide minute-by-minute supervision of fire equipment.

The problem for the mayor then was that apparently NOBODY was providing such supervision. That problem was quickly solved when Williams appointed Fire Chief Jan Rader and City Manager Cathy Burns to investigate the situation. That immediately led to the designation of Assistant Fire Chief Ray Canafax as fleet manager. Clearly, that’s a position that should always have existed.

Fleet management would likely not have permitted a ladder truck to be 14 quarts low on oil.

In addition to Rader and Burns, the mayor said he would order an outside investigation. He and city spokesman Bryan Chambers have been pretty tight-lipped about it, which makes sense. Although I do not know the details of any outside investigation in this case, most such investigations go much better when done privately.

The mayor has dealt with the matter correctly up until now. I’m sure the public will be fully informed when a conclusion is reached. My analysis will not be embraced by a group of opponents who are aiming at Williams in next year’s election. With them, he can do nothing right.

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Rumors spread at the statehouse this week about Jim Justice-related companies receiving “31 subpoenas” from the U.S. Attorney’s office. By Wednesday evening, the rumors were confirmed since others beside Justice were subpoenaed regarding the Greenbrier Resort and Classic. That is really not shocking since Justice and tax officials have sparred at various levels about taxes owed.

Some continue to insist that the tax problems will chase Justice from a 2020 re-election campaign. They didn’t stop him from winning in 2016.

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Former Eastern Panhandle Delegate Michael Folk is convinced he can beat Justice in the next Republican primary. While I can’t come close to agreement with Folk on many subjects, his candor is quite refreshing.

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If you’re a Republican concerned about holding the governor’s office in 2020, you had best hope that Kanawha Executive Committee Chair Tresa Howell and Harrison GOP committee members know more about politics than election veterans. The two groups are delusional if they really believe “no confidence” votes in the sitting REPUBLICAN governor will make him more likely to toe the far-right agenda. Howell said they “sent the governor a message.” He may send one back.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ronjgregory@gmail.com.