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Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
Charles Town, West Virginia
March 28, 2012     Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
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March 28, 2012

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PAGE Wednesday, March 28, 2012 ,pirit of JEFFERSON and FARMER'S ADVOCATE EDITOR'S NOTE Offering insight into mother's ordeal No surprise: the Spirit's sto- held to the same standards. It ry last week about Amanda Un- must. derwood drew a strong response The story also served as an from readers, with just as many indictment of West Virginia s prepared to eviscerate Under- child removal rate. It is worse wood as defend her; likewise far worse -- than any other Robert Snyder, managing editor Berkeley County's Department of Health and Human Resourc- es. Because of the overwhelming reaction, the occasion has be- come an opportunity for me to do something different -- nei- ther editorialize, nor opinion- ate -- but instead offer our read- ers something that's not always a;eailable, that being a chance to invite you into a conversation about our coverage and explain our efforts. Underwood's story -- about a young woman whose life had intersected with the DHHR with disastrous results -- generated more reader comment than any I'd seen since assuming the helm at the Spirit of Jefferson more than seven months ago. We pub- lished the story following an ex- tensive review of the documenta- tion, almost exclusively court re- cords and DHHR reports. Bryan and I met a number of times throughout the past sever- al weeks to discuss what kind of story we were telling and what kind of story we weren't telling While the story clearly offered a point of view, it was not initiat- ed to pursue an agenda. Numer- ous efforts were made to dis- cuss the case with DHHR offi- cials, including the case work- er to whom Underwood was as- signed, Mary Carper. The de- partment declined to discuss the case with any specificity, citing its own policies. We were never able to make contact with Carp- er. Most troubling to us were rul- ings by 23rd Circuit Judge John Yoder, who recognized that an apparent toxicity had developed between Underwood and DHHR that had muddied efforts at re- solving the matter to the fami- ly's benefit, which should have been the focus. Equally trou- bling was evidence that on a number of instances, neither DHHR nor the court-appointed guardian ad litem had followed Yoder's orders. It is our opinion that an agency that demands and can order accountability in peo- ple it assumes as clients must be state's in the Union and that is a disgrace. A state should not hold in such contempt its own cit- izens, no matter their socio- economic circumstances, nor for any other factor. West Virginia can and should do better in striving to make sure that every effort is ex- hausted before it seeks child removal as a remedy. In our own reading of the documenta- tion that was not done in Under- wood's case. number of readers have weighed in on the story, both on our website and our Facebook page. Comments mat are criti- cal of Underwood have not been taken down, even if we've dis- agreed with them. That's what every conversation is all about, and Underwood herself should agree that by throwing open her circumstances to public review she invited comment. We have taken down those comments, however, that pur- port to know Underwood's cir- cumstances but that we have not been able to verify. Un- til they are verified, they are hearsay. Our own reporting was thorough in its reliance on available public documents and we can't allow comments tQ be published that we don't know to be true. Some commenters have told us they believe there is more to the story than has been re- ported, and it might be true that some red flag triggered the ini- tial scrutiny of Child Protec- tive Services. But we also think it's true that CPS behaved less thoroughly in its review of the case than we ourselves did in reviewing it. From all appear- ances, rather than seeking to cultivate a resolution that kept the children in Underwood's custody, DHHR elected in- stead to force her into com- peting obligations then ran out the clock on whatever ef- forts were available to her, ul- timately forcing Yoder's hand to terminate her custody. We are grateful for all com- ments, however, even those we have to remove. We wel- come every opportunity to have our own'coverage scruti- nized thoroughly. We strive to be fair and accurate other- wise, we're nothing more than a ranting biog. Please send your comments -- critical or otherwise - to me at editor@ I read everything. JOB oU' 601NG To TO BE FLI XI LE AND OliN TO [K)N PUT ALL.YOUR iN ONE GKET, ' 'vil " " unions in rO This year I introduced in the House of Delegates a bill that would have permitted same-sex couples to enter into what are called civil unions. The bill would have guaran- teed every right and privilege of marriage to such couples. But the union would not be called a marriage. I began thinking about intro- ducing such a bill five years ago. Three years ago, I was pre- paged to introduce it but was dissuaded from doing so by ad- vocates of gay rights. Fairness West Virginia, the largest advocacy group for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexu- als and transgender people was concerned that the introduction of a civil union bill would make it more difficult to pass another bill, one they considered more urgent. That would be the bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in employment and housing. I have for many years been a sponsor of that bill as well, and I have been the lead spon- sor in the House of Delegates for the last two years. I certainly did not want to do anything that would jeopardize its passage. So I agreed to hold off on the civil union bill. Two years in a row the State Senate passed the "antidiscrim- ination" bill overwhelmingly, thanks" in great part to the ef- forts of Jeff Kessler, then chair of the Senate Judiciary Commit- tee and now Senate President. But unfortunately, the House of Delegates never took the bill up for consideration, even in com- mittee. I know not why. It's a custom in the West Vir- ginia Legislature that when a bill passes one house but is not tak- en up by ~, the oth- er house t h e :i~::::~::~: 71i house that i iii passed it choos- :::i ::> es to not ::~ take it up again ~::~i ~:::::~i~:~!~ until it pass- es the recalcitrant house first. It was unusual that the Senate would pass the antidiscrimina- tion bill the second time after the House of Delegates refused to take it up. Be that as it may, I determined last fall to not wait any longer to introduce a civil union bill. After three years of waiting for the an- tidiscrimination bill to pass I be- lieved a new strategy was neces- sary. I had no illusions that a civ- il union bill could pass anytime soon, certainly not in the first year it was introduced. Many bills on far less controversial top- ics languish for several years af- ter their original introductions. But I thought it was long past time to start a conversation in West Virginia about civil unions. Polls show ever increasing sup; port among West Virginians for civil unions. Some polls now ac- tually show a slim majority for such a law. By contrast, polls still indicate strong opposition to gay mar- riage. So that's why I chose to make the bill a civil union one and not a gay marriage one. Why, you might ask, would the name make a difference if the substance of the bill is the same? Good question, and I don't know the answer. All I can say is that for many years I favored civil unions but not gay marriage because of the re- ligious connotation of the'word marriage. The civil union bill I spon- sored exempted any religious organization from having to recognize the unions that would be legalized under it. Ironically, the gay marriage law recently passed by the New York State Legislature gave the same ex- emption. Marriages recognized under that law have the same effect as a civil marriage per- formed for heterosexual couples by a judge or a sea captain. The civil union bill I spon- sored this year had exactly the same provisions as the New York State gay mamage law. Aha, what's in a name? Gay marriage will be legal in West Virginia sooner than you might ttiink. The only reason it will take longer to pass such a law in our state than in most oth- ers is the fact that West Virginia has the oldest average age of all the 50 states and the divide on this issue is generational. --John Doyle represents the 57th District in the West Virgin- ia House of Delegates. Can 'unique' solution" lead to regmnal boards of ed? YeA shigh SwC howl dEnJe1 ithbeeaSh:r ful when using the word "unique" to describe an event or even an idea. And my most memorable example of extremely poor us- age of this word was a newspaper colleague's years ago describing something as "very unique anal quite dif- ferent ." Bu't Execu- tive Di- rect'or Mark Man- chin of the state School Building Author- ity was justified in his usage of the word "unique" to describe a propo~etl inter-county elementary school planned by the school boards Of Lewis and Gilmer counties. At last week's SBA meeting, LeW- is County School Superinten- dent Joe Mace and Gilmer Coun- ty School Superintendent Ron Blankenship presented a plan tO merge two elementary school~ they described as "decrepit" into a new consolidated inter-coun- ty school that would straddle the border between the two central West Virginia counties. There are seven potential sites for the school intended to re- place Troy Elementary School in Gilmer County and Alum Bridge Elementary School in Lewis County. The initial cost estimate for the new inter-county school is $11.1 million. It is one of 23 proposed con~ struction projects submitted to SBA for the next bond issue for new school construction that would require a total expenditure of about $170 million if all 23 were to be authorized. However, the proposed bond sale in May will only provide about $40 mil- lion for this latest round of state- wide public school construction. Lewis County's population is more than twice that of Gilmer County and since most of the 20- acre site that is the preferred lo- cation for the new school would be in Lewis County, that county would be the financial agent for the project. But the two coun- ties would split the cost of pur- chasing the property for the new school. According to a staff member of the state Board of Education this is the only inter-county plan currently under consideration. There was one similar agreement previously between Logan and Lincoln counties. The economics of this idea are compelling. The two counties es- timate this proposal would result Top-notch journalism showcased Wow! The article on Aman- da Underwood's quest to get her children back from an arrogant and all powerful DHHR in Berke- ley County (Spirit, March 21) was the best example of real journalism that I have ever seen in West Vir- g'mia. The investigative report'mg by Bryan Clark was impeccable and the writing was outstanding. In addition, the editorial page column on the same topic was excellent. Anyone who missed this com- peUing story should go to the Spir- it's web site and read it; you won't LETTERS TO THE EDITOR be disappointed. Along with its revelations of an arrogant and power hungry DHHR, the article reinforces the need for an interme- diate appellant court in West Vir- ginia and a need for a Supreme Court that will do more than blind- ly accept the decisions of govem- ment bureaucrats instead of ful- ly reviewing the cases they hear. From this article, it is apparent that Judge Yoder would be an out- standing addition to the Supreme Court. My wife, a retired public school teacher has had several unpleasant experiences with state government social workers and believes that this is a field that could use even more investigative reporting, es- pecially if it is done as profession- ally as in this case. Hopefully, the Spirit will continue to do this high quality journalism. Gary Dungan Harpers Ferry Boober deserves to be sheriff My purpose in writing concerns the fact that my former colleague in law enforcement, Ed Boober, has filed as a candidate for sheriff of Jefferson County. My name is Thomas E Burgoyne and after a thiay-three year career in the Federal Bureau of Investi- gation, I served eight years as the sheriff of Ohio County. in Wheel- ing. It was during these eight years that I became well acquainted with Sheriff Boober as we both served on the Board of Directors of the West Virginia Sheriff's Associa- tion. I also came to know the cali- ber of this law enforcement profes- sional who had previously served as a Metropolitan D.C. police of- fleer and Chief of Police in Ran- son. I had occasion to meet several members of his department when he was serving as the sheriff and knew of the respect his employees had for him. Ed stepped down in 2008 and I applaud him for mak- ing the decision to continue his passion for public safety in his home community. I would like the citizens of Jef- ferson County to know of Ed Boo- ber's reputation throughout the state of West Vtrginia and I feel sure that they will remember his efforts during his previous tenure. He deserves your vote of confi- dence. Thomas F. Burgoyne Wheeling Improvements are appreciated I just want to commend you on a string of improvements to See LETTERS Page A5 in an annual savings of more than $500,000 and another $500,000 in current expenses that could be avoided. That's probably why Manchin said last week that he "fully anticipates" the SBA will award some of the $40 million bond sale planned for May to this inter-county project. The SBA will make final deci- sions on which of the many de- serving school construction proj- ects will be funded at an April 23 meeting. One of the other proj- ects is a $14 million proposal for a different elementary school to be constructed in Gilmer Coun- ty. Some people hope this is the first step toward "regional school management" and elimination of the 55 separate county boards of See MILLER Page A5 LETrERS POLICY Letters to the F xlitor must be signed and include a phone num- ber and address for verification. Limit 400 words, once a month, Letters are subject to editing. We will not publish personal attacks. Letters do not represent opinions of the Spirit of Jefferson. Letters of Appreciation are for nonprofit groups to thank other groups, businesses or individuals who help make our community a better place. Limit: 200 words, once a month. iiiii!i!i!iiiii!i!i!iii!i!iiiiii!i!iTi!i!i!iliTiiiiT!ilil iii;iiiiTiiiiiiiii!i!iiTiiiiiii;i;iiiiiii!iiiiiiiiii Letters of political endorse; ment will now be accepted by the Spirit of Jefferson. Letters must be signed and include a telephone number and address for verification. Limit 250- words, one letter per election cycle. Letters are subject to ed- iting. The Spirit of Jefferson will not publish personal at- tacks or letters that are found to be libelous. Letters do not represent opinions of the Spir- it of Jefferson. The number of letters published will be lim- ited to space available at the publishers discretion.