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Statehouse Beat: Trying to stay busy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During his six months on paid administrative leave, soon-to-be fired Department of Health and Human Resources spokesman John Law did his best to keep up the pretense of working from home (even though he was given a generic laptop with no DHHR links or programs), regularly e-mailing reporters summaries of state and national news and other reports regarding public health and human services issues.

Ironically (or perhaps, not so much), Law's last summary before he got his letter of termination included an item about how DHHR had evidently botched for the third time the bid process for a $250 million mega-computer (apparently after DHHR inadvertently sent bid documents from Xerox State Healthcare that contained trade secrets and confidential information to rival bidder Molina Medicaid Solutions.)

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Acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo was on thin ice with the Tomblin administration even before the MMIS computer bidding tri-bacle, and the firing of Law.

Word is, Tomblin is trying to persuade Dr. Bob Walker, currently state vice chancellor for Health Sciences, to take the job.

Not a bad choice, even though in the early 1990s, we referred to Walker as the "Evil Dr. Bob" as he spearheaded an ill-conceived (and fortunately, ill-fated) attempt to dismantle the West Virginia University School of Medicine. (As opposed to the "Good Dr. Bob," then-WVU Med School Dean Bob D'Alessandri ... )

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Speaking of DHHR, Ronald Morris, the Sharpe Hospital employee who was suspended and subsequently arrested on charges of making terroristic threats on Jan. 1, has also been fired.

(Morris reportedly commented to two co-workers in the Sharpe Hospital dining room, "I can't believe someone hasn't come in here and cleaned house."  Which his supervisors in turn, interpreted as a threat to shoot people.)

While Morris was suspended for allegedly creating a "violent or hostile work environment," his letter of termination (from hospital CEO D. Parker Haddix) states that grounds for dismissal is gross misconduct.

Immediately after the suspension, Morris' wife, Kim, who also works at the Lewis County psychiatric hospital, had her employee badge deactivated. (That put her at some risk, since the swipe-card badges open locked doors within the facility.)

However, her badge was reactivated two days later, after a memo went out stating, "The security risk that was the reason for the original deactivation of the employee's badge has now been lowered."

Haddix also put out a memo to employees, calling for vigilance regarding hospital security.

"If something or someone appears suspicious, notify security right away. The best security we have is a vigilant staff," the memo stated.

"Please continue to treat each other with dignity and respect that we may have an [sic] work environment that is free of hostility and intimidation. Think twice about what your words and actions convey to those around you," Haddix wrote.

Meanwhile, Sharpe administrators are evidently pressing forward with criminal charges against Morris, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for later this week.

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That Sen. Jay Rockefeller was planning to retire after this term was probably the worst-kept secret at the statehouse. In fact, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's announcement she would run for Senate in 2014 was based on the understanding she would not be facing Rockefeller in the general election.

(One comment was that, if her dad couldn't make Rockefeller spend it all in 1980, there was no way she was going to try to make him do it in 2014 ... )

Which launches us into the inevitable silly season of trying to sort out who may or may not run for Senate.

One name we can probably take off the board immediately is Justice Robin Davis. While she certainly has the name recognition, resources and popularity, judicial ethics would require her to step down from the bench to pursue even an interest in running -- a tall order, given that she just won re-election to a 12-year term.

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Finally, West Virginia gubernatorial inaugurations as proof of climate change: Back in 1993, my late friend Tom Searls wrote a feature about weather conditions for state inaugurations, and his research found that sub-freezing weather had been the norm for all inaugurals since 1937 -- the year that the start of the term of office was moved up from mid-March to January.

In fact, he noted, inaugurations in 1937, 1945, 1949, 1953 and 1961 had to be moved inside the Capitol because of bitter cold, and Rockefeller's inauguration in 1977 probably should have been moved indoors. (The day's high temperature was 7 degrees with a wind-chill below zero.)

In the five inaugurations since, the trend of freezing temperatures on inauguration day has been broken twice, with mild temperatures well above freezing for Bob Wise's swearing-in in 2001, and for Monday's ceremonies for Gov. Tomblin.

Of those five inaugurations in the past 20 years, only two have even been uncomfortably chilly: It was in the upper teens and windy for Cecil Underwood in 1997, and in the low teens in 2005 for Joe Manchin. (Unfortunately, the Manchins had decided to revive the inaugural parade from downtown to the Capitol that year, after a 32-year hiatus.)

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


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