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The Indy Issue from Friday March 12, 2021

 

 

Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.

 

Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.

 

It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.

 

The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.

 

Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.

 

It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.

 

This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.

 

Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.

 

Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 

 

“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 

 

This weeks front page:

 

 

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An audit and Ethics Opinion  has caused the Doddridge County Clerk’s Office to alter practices when it comes to extended hours and overtime pay for county employees.. 

Doddridge County Clerk’s Office has recently changed the way it does business during the extended hours for the use of the Records Room.

The audit revealed the clerk’s office extended hours to provide access to public documents to certain representatives of oil-and-gas companies.

 

County Commission stated the county operates extended hours due to the massive influx of oil-and-gas abstractors who do land research in the records room.

“We’ve been doing it for a couple of years. There are so many abstractors that every courthouse in this general area has a lottery or some method to allow a certain number of people in the record room for a certain amount of time,” Commissioner Robinson said.

According to the audit report, during the extended hours, county officials denied access to the general public and certain other oil-and-gas company representatives.

In their response to the audit, county officials said they did not publish the extended hours, but they never denied access to the general public. County officials noted that if someone inquired, they were allowed to work in the records room during the extended hours.

The Clerk’s Office will continue to operate extended hours three days a week. The County Commission has now made the information public. Clerks are continuing to allow anyone to use the record room during that time.

Also reviewed during the audit was the issue of clerk pay during the extended hours.  The audit found employees of the County Clerk’s Office were paid by an outside party in the oil-and-gas industry during the extended hours, and this compensation was not included in their normal payroll calculations.

County Commissioner Shirley Williams said the pay issue also has been addressed.

“We still continue to hold it open” Williams said.  “The oil and gas companies no longer pay the employees overtime costs, we now pay that directly.”

Auditors also noted county officials failed to determine and/or request an advisory opinion from the West Virginia Ethics Commission to determine whether this arrangement would violate the Ethics Act.  County officials said they were not aware an advisory opinion was necessary.

According to the audit, county officials failed to adequately address and request a proper interpretation of pertinent West Virginia and Internal Revenue code sections before actively participating in this payment arrangement.

Doddridge County changed its procedures after a similar issue was raised recently in Tyler County. The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office received an inquiry that resulted in an opinion being issued by the West Virginia Ethics Commission.

Recently, Tyler County had questioned the overtime pay issue of keeping it’s courthouse open. Doddridge County had been practicing it prior to the letter that went to the West Virginia attorney general. The ruling was that it was legal, but the opinion was the county commission or the clerk could not bill for this time. When Doddridge County officials found out about the opinion, they altered their practices to fall in line with the ruling.

Oil-and- gas companies are permitted to make contributions to the county commission.  The money will go into the budget to be used as the county sees fit. The county can choose to use the money to help offset the cost of extending courthouse hours. This restructuring ensures that county employees are being paid only by the county.

The county does not bill for the time, nor does it solicit the donations.

Once the County Commission found out about the attorney general’s opinion, they changed the  methods at that time.