West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on how West Virginia State Police deals with use-of-force and trooper misconduct accusations:
Two reports in the Gazette-Mail over the past few days have detailed how the West Virginia State Police deals with use-of-force and trooper misconduct accusations, and the overall picture is disturbing.
Examining four years of records between 2014 and 2019 (it would be five, but, for some reason, the State Police didn’t document its Early Identification System reports for 2017) shows a pattern of troopers undergoing an internal investigation for incidents ranging from wrongful death, excessive force and sexual assault, and being cleared — even when a review finds it likely they committed a crime.
Discipline seemingly only occurs after public awareness is raised regarding the trooper in question. And the public typically only becomes aware if there is a large legal settlement over the matter or if a video of something like the beating of a suspect is released.
Over the past five years, the State Police paid $3.1 million in lawsuit settlements and $400,000 in legal fees. All of that is taxpayer money.
It’s true that complaints against state troopers have decreased quite a bit over the past 20 years, but there are still officers who rack up multiple complaints over seriously reckless, sometimes life-threatening behavior and go back to their job cleared by an internal investigation.
The State Police has framed such instances involving the same trooper as “outliers,” but that doesn’t excuse one improper use of force or abuse of power, let alone several. West Virginians should be able to rely on state troopers to respond to incidents in a level-headed, professional manner. That’s not what happened when troopers savagely beat a 16-year-old in Martinsburg last year. That’s not what happened when a trooper shot and killed a teenager in 2014 after the officer had been looking for teens who had been on his property and allegedly thrown wet underwear on his cruiser. That’s not what happened when a trooper in 2017 allegedly raped a woman after arresting her boyfriend.
And why should troopers be concerned about their conduct if they know they’ll face a review board that will clear them?
Maybe there’s no foolproof way to completely rid any law enforcement agency of officers who will abuse their power, but the State Police review system as it exists almost invites it.
Bringing in another agency to externally investigate these incidents is one place to start. Holding troopers accountable with an effective deterrent and taking action before one trooper becomes involved in multiple incidents would reduce misconduct even further, possibly even preventing misconduct in the first place.
The taxpayers should also see how much of their money is being spent to settle these cases. Yes, the settlements are public record, but there’s no way to see them unless you know where to look or it gets picked up by the news media. Maybe the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, which keeps the data for all legal damages or settlements paid out by any state agency, should put them online.
Keeping all of this in house isn’t working. Independent investigations and transparency over legal settlements can only help bring more accountability.
The Journal on how towns and cities in West Virginia may be missing out on millions of dollars a year in taxes and fees:
Towns and cities in West Virginia may be missing out on millions of dollars a year in taxes and fees that should be paid by contractors performing jobs for the state, legislators were told last week.
Many out-of-state contractors working on state projects are not registering with municipalities where the jobs are being done, lawmakers were told by a legislative auditor. By not registering, the contractors avoid paying local taxes.
Since 2017, state officials have required that all contractors insist their subcontractors register with town and city governments. But at present, there is no guarantee that is done, because state government does not inform municipalities when contracts for work within their limits are let.
Common courtesy would suggest that officials in Charleston inform local government officials of such contracts. Apparently they do not.
It was suggested to legislators that they should enact a law requiring such notifications. They should do that to help towns and cities guard against unscrupulous contractors.
The Register-Herald on a small West Virginia town using special panels to harvest clean water:
Because our collective health depends on it, ready access to a reliable source of clean, potable water should be considered a human right — here where our backs are up against the mountains as well as anywhere else in the world. It should be a given, a bother that should not be, Infrastructure Issue No. 1 — no matter your mailing address, your proximity to political power or the balance in your bank account.
Clean water should be a public policy priority.
But, as we all know, such is not the case in this economically impoverished cubbyhole we call home where vulnerable populations have long suffered for decades beneath the weight and ways of King Coal.
Well, some McDowell County folks, in the tiny little town of Kimball, population 162, have taken a curious and interesting step towards what should be more commonplace. Via technology, they are harvesting clean water out of thin air.
And — imagine if you can — they are using solar panels in a tired and aging coal country to do just that. The irony is rich, and the science and engineering have never tasted so refreshing.
As reported by Charles Boothe of our sister newspaper down in Bluefield, Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank has installed a 24-panel hydropanel water production system that delivers a supply of water — clean and fresh — every day.
The technology is not new, just new to these parts and new in one other way. While the panels have been installed in over 30 countries, the Kimball array is the first community-based project of its kind in the United States.
That’s right, first in the nation for a state and region known to rank near the bottom in most every measurement of health.
Using a combination of materials, science, solar power and predictive data, the off-grid and self-contained system creates about 950 gallons of clean water each month.
The food bank worked with Zero Mass Water, Dig Deep (a human rights nonprofit), and one2one USA (a new nonprofit reinventing the connection between donors and donees) to bring the hydropanels to Kimball.
The process, essentially, recreates the minor miracle of a bead of water forming on a blade of grass — warm air making contact with a cold surface.
The solar panel set up is not inexpensive, unless you are the recipient of such a gift from a benevolent non-profit, as was the case at the food bank. Each panel costs $2,000 and produces an average of a half-gallon to one and a half gallons of water per day.
And while the first installment in McDowell is relatively modest, a more ambitious investment could guarantee an abundance of clean water where there was only water scarcity previously.
Can it happen on a broader scale here in West Virginia where systems are ancient and the cost to repair more than what’s currently in the pipeline?
Not to be pessimistic, but West Virginia, after all, is a state whose Environmental Protection Agency is run by a guy who is also the gubernatorial appointed lead cheerleader for the petrochemical industry. The governor, himself, is a wealthy coal baron.
This is a state where failing water systems deliver boil water notices more reliably than drinkable water.
This is a state where operators of mountaintop coal mining companies dodge and weave their way around environmental compliance and cleanups with the reliable assistance of lawmakers in Charleston and D.C.
This is a state where mountaintop coal mining operations blast toxins into our air and leave rubble exposed to rainfall that carries pollutants into our water supply.
This is a state where it is not an uncommon sight to see folks filling buckets with water off the side of a mountain because it is better than what the local Public Service District delivers.
This is a state whose legislators this summer were quick to stuff $12.5 million (the equivalent of 6,250 solar panels and an estimated 6,000 gallons of clean drinking water per day) into the pockets of those who were running an uncompetitive coal-fired power plant, while home owners in the rural recesses of Wyoming and McDowell counties were seeing their water run orange.
Can this fading little dot on the map be a place that can assure its residents of improved delivery of the most fundamental resource?
Yes, but only if public officials care more about the health of their constituents and public policy that serves the general welfare than special interests.