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Governor bringing cabinet to Panhandle

August 11, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A C-130 airplane carrying West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood and his cabinet will bring the heart of state government to the Eastern Panhandle for a 48-hour tour on Aug. 31.

The visit is an attempt to bridge the perceived gap between the Eastern Panhandle and the rest of the state, Underwood said.

"I want my cabinet to see the Eastern Panhandle and I want the people of this area to see us," Underwood said.

In Martinsburg Wednesday for the dedication of the new Eastern Regional Jail and a child safety seat initiative at Martinsburg High School, Underwood said the distance from the state capital in Charleston has created a situation in which the Eastern Panhandle sometimes feels out of touch.

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The perception of a communication gap is less now than it was 20 years ago, but it is still there, former Berkeley County Commission President Jim Smith said.

"It used to take eight hours to go to Charleston and now it only takes six, but there is a still a struggle to keep up with what's going on in the rest of the state," Smith said. "Our news is (from) Washington and Baltimore - not Charleston."

A face-to-face meeting with people in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties will give cabinet members a better idea of the needs of the Eastern Panhandle, Underwood said.

"I think it will be very helpful to our people to talk with residents, tour the area and hear what they have to say," Underwood said.

One area of interest for Underwood is how to spread the Eastern Panhandle's economic boom to other areas of the state where unemployment is on the rise.

"I want to find ways to open up those boundaries in both directions," Underwood said.

Specifics of the trip have not been finalized but cabinet members are expected to arrive in Martinsburg Aug. 31 and hold a series of meetings throughout the Eastern Panhandle on Sept. 1.

Underwood plans to lead a cabinet meeting with local elected leaders on the morning of Sept. 2 with a formal cabinet meeting in the afternoon.

The prospect of roundtable discussions with Underwood and his cabinet holds a lot of possibilities for the area, Berkeley County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham said.

The meetings will give local people a chance to voice their concerns and get a better sense of what's going on in other parts of the state, Dunham said.

"I think it's a great idea," he said.

Smith called Underwood's plan "an excellent move."

"We've got the greatest place on earth, and the rest of the state needs to know that," Smith said.

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