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Statehouse beat: Raises could be short-lived

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's longest-serving agriculture commissioner, Gus Douglass, will be retiring in January after a total of 44 years in office, and presumably, many of his top aides will also be out of work.

However, Douglass did provide a nice parting gift, in the form of pay raises totaling $206,349 for 71 Department of Agriculture employees.

Most raises were for $2,000, although some were lower, including the smallest raise, $550, for administrative assistant Cynthia Fisher.

However, 13 administrators and top officials got raises of $5,000 or more.

Those include: Matthew Blackwood, homeland security coordinator, $6,468 raise to a $60,000 salary; Seth Casto, information systems administrator, $5,953 to $45,000; Koren Custer, assistant state veterinarian, $5,000 to $65,000; Kenneth "Buddy" Davidson, communications officer, $6,000 to $55,000 (oddly, Davidson didn't seem to know anything about any pay raises upon my initial inquiries ...); Joshua Hardy, assistant director, environmental labs, $7,000 to $54,008; Cynthia Martel, marketing specialist, $5,800 to $46,000; Jodee Martin, executive assistant, $6,000 to $43,500;

Also, Steve Miller, assistant commissioner (whom Douglass endorsed in the Democratic primary for ag commissioner), $5,800 to $73,000; Brenda Mobley, personnel manager, $6,300 to $70,000; Stephanie Sizemore, assistant personnel manager, $6,176 to $54,000; Pamela Staley, executive assistant, $5,000 to $44,000; Wade Stiltner, apiary inspector, $5,000 to $36,000; and Donald Gene Straight, computer desk tech, $7,864 to $40,000.

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Other notable raises went to: Janet Fisher, deputy commissioner, $2,904 to $80,500; Robert Earl Pitts, division director, $2,000 to $77,000; Jean Smith, division director, $2,000 to $68,272; Bob Tabb, deputy commissioner (and another unsuccessful Democratic primary candidate for the office), $2,800 to $80,000; and Darius Walker, information technology services director, $2,000 to $72,392.

It may also be worth noting the department has some very well paid custodians following the raises. They include: Janice Lynn Cottrell, $2,960 to $30,000; James Parsons, $2,496 to $28,000; Charles Smith, $1,496 to $27,000; and custodial supervisor Richard Samms, $2,500 to $32,000.

However, the raises could be short-lived for many of the names on this list, assuming aquarian farmer Walt Helmick replaces many of the top Douglass staffers when he takes office ... Most of the raises took effect Aug. 16.

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In the spirit of last week's declaration by House Speaker Rick Thompson that he is raising the House Health and Human Resources Committee to "major" committee status, I'd like to officially announce that my 1998 Chevy is now a 2013 Lamborghini.

It reminded me of when Sen. John Unger was appointed chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and insisted on renaming it the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in hopes of giving it -- and himself -- more gravitas.

In reality, no matter what you call them, there are only two major committees in each house: Finance and Judiciary, with arguably Finance being the only real major committee, since it controls the purse strings.

However, the change isn't entirely cosmetic: "Major" committee status makes it possible for H&HR to schedule multiple meetings each week, which will be a plus, given the heavy workload likely with health care-related bills in the 2013 session.

(In the past, the committee has been relegated to the less-than-ideal scheduled meeting time of 4 p.m. Mondays. In the House, minor committees meet only once a week.)

It also gives Thompson a little better opportunity to solidify support in the speaker's race, since Delegate Bobbie Hatfield's defeat opens up the vice chairmanship on the committee, and the committee's higher profile will make that appointment somewhat more prestigious for whatever Democrat gets the nod.

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Finally, one of the first calls I got post-election was not about upsets, leadership changes, or new policy directions. It was about ursine deportation.

In other words, what happens to the black bears that have resided outside of Attorney General Darrell McGraw's offices at the Capitol?

For those not familiar with the Capitol's VIPs, for many years, then-Secretary of State Ken Hechler displayed two stuffed bears outside his office. Frequently, one bore a sign stating, "We support the right to arm bears."

After an ill-fated run for Congress in 2000, Hechler had to find a new home for the bears before his term expired, since incoming Secretary of State Joe Manchin had no interest in retaining them, and Hechler ultimately found a willing taker in McGraw.

Coming from New Jersey, it's doubtful that the new Attorney General knows that the black bear is our state animal, let alone would want to keep the bears on display. (At some point, the two evidently had a baby, since the current display is of a trio of bears.)

They can't go back to the previous location, since that space is currently taken up by a video display featuring programming promoting Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

Perhaps the incoming agriculture commissioner Helmick could display them, as a show of his bona fides as an agrarian and outdoorsman ...

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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