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Jones rips Kanawha GOP chairman for levy opposition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Mayor Danny Jones criticized the chairman of the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee on Wednesday for rallying the group to campaign against an excess levy that would have raised millions of dollars for county schools and libraries.

The Kanawha GOP Executive Committee, headed by tea party conservative Fred Joseph, actively opposed the property tax increase. Voters handily defeated the levy Saturday. It was the first time the GOP Executive Committee took a stand against a county excess levy.

"Why use the name of the Republican Party for something other than the election of Republican candidates?" said Jones, a Republican who supported the levy. "What's the purpose? What are they doing?"

Jones said Joseph should have set up a separate, independent organization to oppose the levy, or campaigned against it on his own.

"Why use the Republican Party for this?" Jones said. "Why use a partisan mechanism for that? Was it just to claim they won something?"

More than 75 percent of Kanawha County voters rejected the proposed excess levy. Jones admitted the levy would have been defeated without the GOP Executive Committee's opposition.

Joseph said Wednesday the committee had a right -- and a duty -- to campaign against the levy.

"Our platform calls for no taxation without reasonable cause," he said. "We did have a reason to be involved. The mayor has the right to his opinion, but no right to run the Republican Executive Committee."

Before Saturday's election, the 57-member county Republican Executive Committee voted unanimously to campaign against the excess levy, Joseph said. The levy would have raised $24 million for schools and $3 million for libraries.

The GOP Executive Committee spent $900 for 250 "Vote No" signs, Joseph said. Committee members distributed the signs. They also held up signs at two Charleston locations -- along Corridor G and beside an Interstate 64/77 on-ramp -- just days before the election.

The GOP Executive Committee plans to take sides on future ballot issues, Joseph said.

"We will be proactive on all issues and in all elections," he said.

Kanawha library officials have said six of the county's nine libraries might have to close. Kanawha school officials also have threatened cuts.

Joseph, who was elected chairman of the Executive Committee four months ago, has said the public libraries should be privatized. Companies should run libraries and collect fees for books and Internet use, he said.

Jones said it was hypocritical for Joseph to oppose public funding of libraries because Joseph has a taxpayer-funded job. Joseph has worked as building manager for the Upper Kanawha Valley Enterprise Community, an economic development group, for the past 13 years. Joseph's wife works in the Kanawha County Clerk's Office.

"If you want to cut government, maybe you shouldn't work for it," the mayor said. "Every dollar earned in his household comes from the government."

Joseph said the Upper Kanawha Valley organization is largely self-sustaining, and occasionally receives government grants. Federal tax forms show that the nonprofit group gets about half its money through government grants.

"I'm not against government," Joseph said. "I'm for responsible government."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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