From the desk of Pamela Pritt, Editor of The Pocahontas Times.
<span><span><span>Single member districts a must for small counties</span></span></span>
Pocahontas County may be the third largest West Virginia county in area, but it's nearing the bottom of the list in population. In fact, the population here is expected to drop below 8,000 in this Census and be down to 7,500 in 2020.
A lot of factors contribute to that-a lack of jobs, lack of infrastructure and, in Marlinton, lack of faith that the Greenbrier River will stay within her banks.
But Pocahontas County, while it does not offer state tax money from coal mining or yet, gas well drilling, still offers the state much as a destination for visitors who come here for exactly the reasons our people have gone away-no industrial smokestacks, lovely mountain views and a beautiful river that runs the length of our county, not to mention a four-season resort, state parks and forests and thousands of acres of national forest which keeps our bucolic complexion nearly spot free.
Which means that, while our stable population is declining, our transient population can more than double it and the people who visit here do expect us to have a hospital emergency room, roads fit to drive upon, adequate law enforcement and other taxpayer funded services-all things that we as taxpayers expect to have.
One way for the state to understand Pocahontas County's unique predicament is for us to have a representative in the House of Delegates through a single member district, which both U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin have said they support, although the house will redistrict itself once the 2010 Census figures are available.
Having State Senator Walt Helmick represent Pocahontas County is an anomaly that we will likely not replicate once he is no longer in his seat-and he can't stay there forever. The senatorial district is much too large and we cannot have population growth quickly enough to ensure a senator from here once Helmick is no longer a candidate for state senate.
The answer has to be single member delegate districts, which the county commission will rightly support with a letter.
But it's going to take more than that.
Single member districts must have about 18,500 people, which means Pocahontas County might not be in one district, but could be split into two or more. If our population drops to 8,200, then more than 10,000 people would have to come from another county.
For instance, the northern district could remain with Randolph County, while the central and southern portions are thrown in with Greenbrier. Since both larger counties have more population, that leaves Pocahontas County in virtually the same situation we're in now-represented by folks from counties with larger populations.
But let's say we get a portion of Pendleton County and some of Nicholas, perhaps a little of southern Randolph and some of northern Greenbrier, then our chances are better for our own elected representative to the House of Delegates. A 1991 proposal had Pocahontas County in its entirety, along with a portion of western Randolph County.
What all this speculation means is that our county commissioners must be the leaders when the house is ready to work on redistricting next year.
In 1991, the measure that would have created a single-member district was defeated by the more powerful Elkins contingent, without much of a whimper from Pocahontas County.
Our commissioners should stand up and have us be counted this time around.
Shopping locally is a better deal
"There's nothing to buy in Pocahontas County."
It's what we say when we want an excuse to go out of town to shop. We're all guilty of it. But we need to change the way we think about shopping here. Because, in fact, Pocahontas County has a lot to offer in the way of gifts, particularly at this time of year.
We may not be able to buy certain things here, but when our staff put our heads together for our Holiday Gift Guide, we were amazed at the number and the quality of the gift shops from Durbin to Hillsboro. And we've featured them for two weeks running so that everyone could get a look at what the county has to offer.
There might be many reasons to go outside our borders to shop. But there are some very good ones to stay here and do your Christmas shopping.
ﾕ You'll have friendly service and helpful people. And that's not just in gift shops, but in most of our stores. People who do business here are glad for yours.
ﾕ You'll find unique gifts that don't come off the shelf at some big box store. Some of them are even made here by our own crafters.
ﾕ Those gifts will mean more to the folks on your Christmas list because they came from "home."
ﾕ Much of every dollar we spend in Pocahontas County is spent here, as well, creating a community of consumers who rely on each other, just like in the old days for which everyone seems to be pining.
ﾕ Shopping here makes us stronger and more reliant on ourselves, not some distant business. I highly recommend the book "Jayber Crow" by Wendell Berry for a look at how local economies can thrive or wither depending on how local consumers treat those in business. I'm sure it's available in the libraries or in our local book stores.
The more we buy here, the more we'll be able to buy here. My theory has long been we can't buy certain things in Pocahontas County because we stopped buying them a long time ago. The more we want to purchase in local stores, the more we'll be able to purchase here. And yes, sometimes items are more expensive here than they are in other places. That's because local merchants can't buy in huge amounts to get big discounts and because shipping something here costs a lot more because of our mountain roads. Local merchants aren't greedy; they have to stay in business to employ you, your family and friends so that we can all make a living here.
I've spent a couple of Saturdays this year in Highland County to do genealogy research. I'm amazed by the number of people on the streets and in the restaurants.The town fairly bustles.
Sometimes in Marlinton on Saturdays, I could shoot a cannon down Main Street and not hit a soul. What does that say about how we care for our community businesses? Spending Saturday mornings in Marlinton may not be the most exciting thing you'll do all day. But you may meet up with a neighbor you haven't seen for awhile, strike up a conversation, make plans to visit each other later. In the old days, Saturday was "come to town" day for some groceries, tractor parts, feed and other essentials.
Longing for the old days?
Come to town in the summer for the Farmers' Market. Come now for groceries and car parts, gifts, lunch and more.
Remember that it costs us more to travel to other places to shop. Factor in travel, food and beverages, and spur of the moment purchases and the amount you've saved on gifts or groceries has dwindled considerably.
The thing we save might be more important than a percentage off a gift item, more important than a few dollars or cents off an everyday grocery item, more important than even a few hundred dollars off a vehicle.
We might just save each other.
Here's What I Think
A few weeks ago, Alan Johnson remarked in his weekly column that Pocahontas County was blessed with some amazing women. Some of them work behind the scenes, others are leaders in a public fashion. But there are two women we should thank and be thankful for this week, one of them has left public service and one is leaving very soon.
Marvina Irvine took over an accounting job at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, coming from the banking industry where she cut her professional teeth. At a time in life when most women are ready to settle in and wait on retirement, Irvine took a risk, took on a new job with a new set of rules and laws and took her place in public service.
By some standards, she didn't last long-in just a little more than a year she's back in banking. But while she was there, she brought not only her accounting expertise, but her staunch, stubborn, inflexible ethics to state in public the publicly-owned hospital's fragile financial state. Although there were others, particularly some of the board members, who understood just how bad things were, Irvine resolutely gave the bad news month after month. She didn't sugarcoat it. She didn't try to make it pretty. She just told the board the way it was and what they needed to know.
Whether or not PMH can be resuscitated is still unknown. But thanks to Irvine, the financial cards are on the table and the board, with the help of Minnie Hamilton Healthcare Systems, is making real progress in getting a handle on its finances. Or rather, our hospital's finances. Because, as a county-owned facility, we all have a stake in PMH and we all have a responsibility to see that it remains a viable healthcare facility.
And the other woman you should thank is County Commissioner Reta Griffith.
Griffith was elected as a young 20-something Republican woman to what had typically been an older Democrat white guy's club, if you will. She brought enthusiasm and optimism to the job. She already knew about technology; she learned about budgets and state and federal government procedures and grants and committees. She traveled to places far and wide on our behalf and mostly on her own dime. She made Pocahontas County known outside West Virginia for its attributes. She was a positive force for a very long time. And there's something you should know about Reta Griffith, if you don't already. She's brilliant.
The Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant became her Achilles heel, as it did with former commissioners Joel Callison and James Carpenter. It's an ongoing nightmare of a project that has beseiged and befuddled us for nearly 10 years. I didn't always agree with the decisions the Pocahontas Public Service District made during those early years. I don't think the commission itself always agreed with the decisions, either. But what they did was stand behind the appointed PSD members, correctly pointing out that the decisions were theirs to make.
Griffith took her lumps, sometimes well, sometimes not. But she didn't waiver and even if I didn't agree with her, I admire the heck out of that. It takes a pretty strong person to take what she has and still hold up her head while she continues to do what she believes is the right thing.
She lost an election last spring and she got a new job in the private sector shortly thereafter. She's going to do very well there, and she should.
When she walks out the courthouse doors for the last time as an elected official, this county has lost a great resource of knowledge and energy, of vision and skill. She has greater knowledge of the county budget than any commissioner since Walt Helmick more than 20 years ago.
Commission president Martin Saffer takes every opportunity to take a political jab at her, both in public meetings and on his blog. Saffer seems eager for her departure, as if it will be a weight lifted from his shoulders. Both he and commissioner David Fleming have ignored her advice, sometimes coming to the same conclusion she did, but months later. Although, to give Fleming his due, he has, on occasion agreed with her.
Reta Griffith will be missed a great deal and I don't think the other two commissioners will realize how much they-her greatest opponents-will miss her themselves until she's gone.
But in a lot of ways, they have only themselves to thank for that.
Irvine and Griffith deserve this county's gratitude for their service, we should be sure to share ours with them.
Search for old homestead finally ends
Allen Johnson's Library Lines this week is about genealogy. For me, it's a well-timed piece because I did some family history research this month with my mom, Rene White, and cousin, Sherry Tompkins.
We were guided through the White family's past in Highland County, Virginia, by local historian Roger Orndorff, a Pocahontas County native.
I've been searching for the land our great-great-grandfather Henry White left to come to Pocahontas, stymied by lack of time and a lack of interest from some of the older people in my family.
Our family's oral history is this:
Johann Weiss was a Hessian soldier in the Revolutionary War who either deserted or was captured and chose to stay in America, taking the Oath of Allegiance, settling near Fort Seybert in Pendleton County and eventually buying land in Highland County near Bluegrass.
His name was Anglicized and he became John White, marrying a Native American woman whose name we never knew. They had three sons, John, George and Henry.
John married Susanna Stone and their son, Henry, was the great-great-grandfather whose home was burned by Yankee soldiers in 1863. His son, Henry Lee, was born in the springhouse on January 31, 1864. The family moved to Pocahontas County 10 years later when Henry purchased Benjamin Herold's farm on Douthards Creek.
The expanse of land was eventually broken up between his children and some of it remains in the family today.
We had several gaps, like where the Highland County land was, what had happened to the other Whites there and why wasn't there any correspondence with them.
Over the years, some things have fallen in my lap.
Henry White built a house on Douthards Creek and that is where he and his wife, Sabina Rexrode White died.
When Rachel Tompkins began the move home to that house, she gave us boxes of letters and documents that filled in some of our lost history. If gold had been in that old wooden box I don't think I would have been any happier.
The reams of papers document a sale of cattle to the Confederate Army just weeks before Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomatox, Henry White's own Oath of Allegiance to the United States signed in July, 1865, letter after letter detailing illnesses, crops and one regretful letter from David Rexrode that advised his Uncle Henry that he had to leave the mountainland (on Middle Mountain now mostly in the George Washington National Forest) because the winter was so hard.
"I am starving to death and I can read the Lord's Prayer through my horse," he wrote. "You will have to find someone else to take care of this place."
And one letter from Henry's niece, Amanda Jane, complained that she didn't know why her uncle was upset with her father, Jacob, because he hadn't had anything to do with Grandfather's will. There it was. One of the missing pieces, at least. The answer to why so much correspondence with the Rexrodes and essentially none with the Whites. A later letter from their brother, Solomon, noted how happy he was that his brothers had made peace with each other.
But still no letters from his family or any reference to them at all.
We found one more little clueﾂ a classified advertisement clipped from the Staunton Newsleader offering to sell the land with directions, including the mileage from the mill at New Hampden.
Nearly every trip I take to Franklin I make a pass through the Bluegrass Valley. Not only is it one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in every season, but I was searching for other clues. I've gone to every cemetery I could find, searched the cornerstones of every church, hoping one of them would have been a Lutheran Church in the distant past. Nothing.
And one day in June Roger Orndorff walked into The Pocahontas Times for some reason I can't remember. I did remember his name because he's a member of the Historical Society in Highland County and I'd heard he was interested in genealogy there.
So I pitched the family history I knew and told him I'd be there someday to check it out.
He first emailed me a family tree that was pretty impressive and then a chronology of land ownership from 1785 until 1878. One of those land transactions mentioned the first John's wife, Mary; we don't know if she was the mother of his children or a subsequent wife, but we do have a name.
August 14 was the day. No more waiting, no other priorities.
He warned us not to be too optimistic, but I couldn't help it. He'd at least found land where the Whites had lived, so there might be, could be a clue.
He took us first to the mountainland, or what we could see of it from the road. We have heard, as has he, that there is a chimney somewhere on that property, but it isn't visible. As we came down Lantz Mountain, he stopped so we could see the western facing slope of Monterey Mountain and he pointed out where we were headedﾂ a beautiful mountainside field where we could see the rusty roof of a rather large barn.
With permission from the current landowner, we wound our way to the homestead, or where we believe it was. Roger Orndorff, in true historian fashion, refuses to speculate about anything that is not concretely provable. Mom, Sherry and I, however, engaged in musing about the rocks and the spring and the very little evidence of a structure near it, where our great-grandfather could have been born on a cold January day. Here was the orchard mentioned in the classified ad, a lilac bush that must be more than a century old and a cellar built much like the one at Henry's Pocahontas County home.
After all these years of searching and wondering, we'd found it. If it is not the homeplace, then we at least know our forefathers walked this land, made some of those piles and piles of rocks to clear the fields, drank from these streams and went to church at Union Chapel, a place I've stood dozens of times, thinking the land had to be close by, wondering whose bones were in those unmarked graves.
I'd been looking at it all along. It is likely, although not verifiable, that Henry's parents, John and Susanna, and his oldest daughter, Louisa Caroline, who died before the fire, lie there in that hallowed ground. Perhaps even the Hessian soldier is there, as well, but I may never know.
For now, what I do know is enough. The homeplace land is not visible from the road and I hope the kindness of the landowner will be extended again, because others in my family want to go, at least once. I did take enough pictures, which I'll gladly share, but there's nothing like being there. Nothing at all.
Weﾒve found out about some cousins, descendants of Jacob White, and although we havenﾒt met
them yet, we arenﾒt going to delay much longer. Roger says they have some of the same stories and I canﾒt wait to compare notes.
Roger wouldn't accept any compensation for the trip in spite of the fact he used his own gas and made bunches of copies of records and maps for us. All he wants in return is more information and
copies of some of the documents and letters that we have. I couldn't have paid him if I'd wanted to. There's not enough money in my coffers to equal the value of that trip for me.
My search is not over, not yet. I'd still like to know when that Hessian soldier died, but even more than that I'd like to know where he was born and what his father did. And that will mean a trip to Germany.
So here's what I thinkﾗif you're in your own search for ancestors or their land, take heart. I've been asking questions and searching for mine since I was about 17 years old. I think the lack of information may have been the impetus for continuing the search. It certainly made finding each piece of the puzzle a little sweeter. Don't give up, whatever you do. In fact, make time to talk to people while they are still around, go places while some shred of evidence still exists, don't put it off any longer.
Local Food movement is just good sense
The Local Foods movement has so much going for it, I donﾒt know where to begin. But there are several reasons everyone should support it, either by growing or consuming as part of the program.
One of the movementﾒs chief instigators, Sarah Riley, said she believes we have everything we need to do this. Sheﾒs so very right.
We have a knowledgable workforce who have been growing foods from meats to beets for generations and now we have a crop of young folks, as evidenced by the people who attended the potluck last week, who are ready and willing, if not eager, to learn more about growing food.
Thanks to Doug Bernier and others, we already have an operating Farmerﾒs Market thatﾒs about to get a boost from grant money that will build a permanent shelter with electricity and water. What a great thing for Marlinton in the summer.
We also have a good many consumers in the schools, healthcare establishments, restaurants and individuals who want to serve fresh, local foods. Some of those consumers may want to learn more about growing and preserving fresh foods, as well. Other consumers will travel here to purchase what we can grow.ﾠ Added-value products that can be processed here would be great for resale and to attract visitors to buy our products. Plant an Extra Row for the Hungry, headed by Sue Groves, is a great way to get fresh, healthy foods to people who canﾒt afford to buy them.
The Local Foods movement can be maintained for years to come. Pocahontas County has always had a wealth of agricultural assets. Pooling ideas and resources is a recipe for success with the limitless potential for growth that can be handed down to future generations.
We can make this happen. It will be hard work. It will take time. It will take cooperation and it will mean that we must focus on goals instead of obstacles.
But I have faith that we can do those things. Local Foods is the best, most inclusive idea to come along for Pocahontas County in a long, long time.
Here's What I Think
Hereﾒs What I Think
Youﾒll have to forgive my confusion.
In the last two elections for county commission, both successful candidates ran on a platform that said property rights were sacred.
No one should be able to tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their own property. No one, they said, had that right.
But sometime in the past few months Commissioners Martin Saffer and David Fleming must have changed their minds. Because now, they donﾒt want Waco Oil and Gas to expand its quarry at Linwood. They agree with Snowshoe homeownersﾗnot the resort, it hasnﾒt commented on the expansion yetﾗthat the quarry will be a detriment to tourism and property values in the area. Saffer and Fleming didnﾒt wait to hear from the quarry owner about his plans. They capitulated to one round of negative sentiment from one side of the issue.
Theyﾒve even had the temerity to tell a property owner in another state they donﾒt like his plans for his land.
Those homeowners and the commissioners may be right about what quarry expansion in that area will do. I wonﾒt argue about a threat to tourism or to property values.
But thatﾒs not my point.
The point is that Saffer and Fleming were either disingenuous when they campaigned or theyﾒve changed their minds about property rights.
Which is it?
I actually wrote this editorial last week, but decided to talk to both commissioners and find out why the seeming change in ideology.
Flemingﾒs response was that the second home community had grown up around the quarry while it lay dormant. Saffer said that Waco needed to be part of theﾠ countyﾒs plan.
We donﾒt have one, at least not yet. And in lieu of one, property owners, while having the responsibility of taking care of their land and respecting their neighbors, can pretty much do whatever they like on their own land.
In my heart of hearts, I am an environmentalist. I donﾒt like seeing land torn apart. Thatﾒs the farmer in me. I was taught to take care of the land and it would take care of me. But I use electricity brought to me by coal-fired power plants and I drive on roads that have beds made from the products of quarries. The roads to Snowshoe Mountain Resort were built with rock from the very quarry that the homeowners now opppse.
Hereﾒs what I thinkﾗitﾒs incumbent on us to take care of our land, but without the structure of landuse planning, I donﾒt believe that the county commission can have a say in what a landowner can do with his property. Whether anyone else likes the idea of quarry expansion at Linwood, the landowner is well within his rights to use his property as he sees fit.
And by a couple of politiciansﾒ own admissions, no one has the right to tell him otherwise. No one.
Keep your eye on the ball when you vote
At long last, the St. Louis Cardinals are World Series Champions. Iﾒm a genetic fan of those redbirds, just because my grandfather loved the Gashouse Gang of the 1930s and my father followed his lead, with good reason, in the 1960s when the Cards took the series two years in a row.
Personally, my favorite player is first baseman Albert Pujols, a classic all-around player with an enviable batting stance and more enviable ability to hit home runs. Pujols is a great hitter because of a fundamental habit.
He keeps his eye on the ball.
Thatﾒs a good trait in real life, too, keeping your eye on the ball. But itﾒs tougher and tougher these days in an election season when good information may be hard to come by and half-truths or outright lies are in our mailboxes and on our answering machines every day when we get home.
Wedge issues such as gay marriage, a womanﾒs right to choose and prayer in public schools will surely always divide us. But they serve a greater purpose than that to those who would make much of our differences. They take our eyes off the ball. Those issues will never be reconciled in this country until we can talk about them rationally and with respect for both sides, regardless of which side we are on.
Itﾒs easy to use those issues to rile everybody. Itﾒs harder to talk aboutﾗand fixﾗissues like health care, the shrinking middle class, outsourcing of jobs, education and the environment. Itﾒs harder to get people to invest in them emotionally, as well.
But those are balls to keep your eye on.
It wonﾒt be any shock that I recommend voting a straight Democratic ticket this year, even though I have rarely done that in my voting career.
Thirty years ago, when I was young and discounted age and wisdom, I thought Robert C. Byrd was past his prime. So much for my teenaged political analysis.
Byrd, if not my hero then, is certainly my hero today, not only because of his sheer courage in the face of an adverse political climate, but because heﾒs a student of the United States Constitution, and may in fact be the last one in Washington, D. C. He stands up for what he believes in Constitutionally and he holds this administration accountable for its actions, which is what patriotism is really all about. He has kept his eye on the ball.
He believes in our rights, he believes in West Virginia, and we can do no less than return him to the office he has heldﾠ since 1952.
Nick Rahall is a friend of the environment. Heﾒs been a good Congressman for our state and district. His office is always responsive to questions and will return calls; that is not a usual circumstance with people in Congress.ﾠ
On a state level, Democrats who represent us should be returned to office, as well.
Walt Helmick is the Senate Finance Chair. He has helped Pocahontas County before and will again. Helmick has escaped opposition on this pass; however, he should have a vote of confidence from his home county.
Both delegates Bill Hartman and Bill Proudfoot have been the targets of some intensely rancorous mailings implying their records have not been reflective of their constituencyﾒs values.
Those mailings come from a source called ﾓFor the Sake of the Kids,ﾔ a compelling name and one that even could pull at the heartstrings.
Except that it comes from Don Blankenship of Massey Coal fame. Heﾒs also famous for financing the campaign of Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, who now wonﾒt recuse himself from cases involving the coal industry. I think thatﾒs dangerous.
Blankenship seems to believe our votes are for sale because he is wealthy enough to mass mail misleading pamphlets to our doors.
While I havenﾒt always agreed with either Hartman or Proudfoot on their votes in the House of Delegates, I certainly see the value in returning their experience to Charleston for another term instead of choosing someone backed by a huge corporate entity.
Those mailings are an insult to our intelligence. Believing them will take your eye off the ball.
In the county, Martinﾠ Saffer is the best choice for commissioner in a three-way race. Saffer is intelligent, capable, ready to work at the job and will undoubtedly be a dynamic influence on the commission.
An attorney, he will have extraordinary insight into issues facing the commission. In the years Iﾒve known him, Iﾒve found him to be thoughtful on issues, concerned about his community and forthright in his intentions. He is not a one issue candidate, as we are not one issue voters.
Saffer is the best candidtate in which to put your trust for the next six years.
I think he will keep his eye on the ball.
Keep your eye on the ball next Tuesday. Vote.