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Hundreds turn out to share vision with Manchin

August 23, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and several of his leading administrators heard firsthand Tuesday night many of the problems facing the Eastern Panhandle.

From locality pay for school teachers to preservation of cultural resources such as Falling Waters Battlefield and taxation of elderly homeowners, the issues aired by residents and community leaders among a crowd of more than 300 were plentiful.

Many solutions were sweeping and lacked specifics in what was the second in series of planned stakeholders sessions to be held statewide.

"Tonight is your night," Manchin told the crowd at James Rumsey Technical Institute in opening remarks. "The people in the key positions are here."

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Several of Manchin's cabinet secretaries and advisers, along with representatives of business, labor and education interest groups either introduced themselves or stood to be recognized for the two-hour event.

Manchin took the opportunity to tout the state's economic health, noting the employment rate had been at or below the national average for several months and per capita income levels had been increasing.

"We're in the best shape we've ever been in, and we're going to continue to get our house in order."

Manchin reiterated his interest in operating government differently, noting state officials should be treating residents as valued customers and be willing to have a progressive outlook.

"Its easy to be against something," Manchin said.

Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau leader Paulette Sprinkle was against having her operations continue at a portable office in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"Tourism is actually one of the big economic development tools for the state," Sprinkle said. "I've been in the infamous trailer for four years."

Sprinkle recounted being contacted by a talk radio show from another state about the situation and advocated the state needed to take action to replace the temporary office with a permanent structure.

Carol Dunleavy wanted legislation to address litter problems.

"We need to pass a bottle bill and get this state cleaned up," Dunleavy said.

In spirited remarks, Steve Catlett, executive director of Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation, noted employers' interest in locating in communities that have adequate facilities.

"We're begging for help to expand our recreation facilities," said Catlett.

Catlett said he couldn't understand how the state could spend $20 million on jail facilities, but not find $2 million for a recreation center.

Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he was glad to see state leaders join Manchin for the forum.

"The real proof is what takes place this fall in the tax reform special session," Blair said. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

"Getting out and listening to the community is always a good thing."

Residents who participated in the forum and submitted questions to state leaders will receive feedback, Manchin said.

"We all share the same vision for a better West Virginia," Manchin said in a short press conference before the forum.

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