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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On Thursday, August 29th the Doddridge County Commissioners were issued a letter from the West Virginia Division of Labor out of Charleston, West Virginia.  The letter is addressed to Ms. Beth Rogers, County Clerk as a default recipient of Certified mail for the County Commissioners.  The letter draws into question the recent renovations and restorations being conducted at the County Courthouse. It begins,”This agency is conducting a Prevailing Wage Investigation of RJ Krunkle (sp) dba The Traditions Group for work performed on several projects relating to the Doddrdige County Courthouse and the Old Jail Museum, both of which are located in Doddridge County, West Virginia.”

The letter continues “As you are the public authority responsible for this project, the West Virginia Division of Labor is issuing this notice of violation so your agency will assist in achieving compliance.  You may accomplish this by withholding final payment until compliance has been achieved.”

The County Commission has already issued final payment as of August 19, 2013.  We are waiting to hear back from the West Virginia Division of Labor as to what action will be taken next.

The Division of Labor cited three direct violations of the West Virginia Code Chapter 21-5A, et seq. providing as follows: 

21-5A-2 states that the hourly wage paid to all workmen employed by or on behalf of any public authority engaged in the construction of public improvements must be paid the prevailing wage.  The WV Division of Labor has set building construction wage rates.  These are known as the “prevailing wage” that standardizes all public works projects.  The County Commission failed to monitor this WV Code.

21-5A-7 is the second code violation cited in the letter.  It states that “Wages are to be kept posted.  A clearly legible statement of all fair minimum wage rates to be paid...”    

The third violation is in regards to Wage Records.  21-5A-8 states that “Wage records are to be kept by contractor, subcontractor, etc.; contents; open to inspection.  The contractor and each subcontractor or the officer of the public authority in charge of the construction of a public improvement shall keep an accurate record showing names and occupation of all such skilled laborers, workmen and mechanics employed by them, in connection with the construction on the public improvement and showing also the actual wages paid to each of the skilled laborers, workmen and mechanics, which record shall be open to all reasonable hours to the inspection of the department of labor and the public authority which let the contract, it’s officers, and agents.”

We contacted Ora Ash at the State Auditor’s Office to gain more insight as to how these projects are typically handled.  He informed us that normal protocol for projects of this size require a Project Manager, normally an licensed architect.  Any project over $25,000 and relating to a registered historical structure needs to have an architect who will also act as project manager. Projects of restoration are also typically approved by the West Virginia History and Archives, a division of WV Culture and History.  The West Virginia Division of Culture and History provides technical assistance to owners of historic properties and anyone else interested in preserving prehistoric or historic sites in West Virginia.

A project manager oversees the job in it’s entirety.  From scheduling to labor and materials costs, the project manager is there to make sure there is no overcharges taking place.  We asked the Deputy Chief Clerk for a record of the project manager for the restoration.  We were told that “Commissioner Sandora was appointed by the commission as the acting project manager for the restoration.”  

Part of a project manager’s job is to make certain all aspects of a project are in full compliance with the Division of Labor.  Monitoring the project on a daily basis and keeping track of invoices and materials used on a project is key to staying on budget.  The project manager or architect also certifies a “performance bond” on any public work project.  This bond is set up to protect the public authority from fraud and is designed to insure that all aspects of work have been completed to the satisfaction of the architect or project manager.  There is no record of a performance bond being posted on this project.  

Another aspect of this position falls into the budgetary side of the project.  An architect will specify materials used during restoration and will find pricing within the planned budget.  The contractor will purchase the materials specified by the architect or project manager and submit the invoices to the public entity commissioning the work.  When asked, told us there was no such check and balance with this project.  

“Whatever Mr. Kunkle submitted to the county commissioners, they paid without question.”  -Chief Deputy Clerk
We asked to view the file and saw no detailed invoices showing materials, labor, equipment rental...nothing specifying any type of work details.

Engaging an architect for restoration on an historical structure is standard protocol if the project exceeds $25,000, according to Ora Ash.   

Commissioner Ralph Sandora stated in a county commissioners meeting that this contractor was selected because “he was the only one who showed up.”  

 

The Traditions Group of Columbus Ohio is flagged by the Better Business Bureau as “No longer in business”.  There was no clarification or explanation to this listing.  We were also able to find in a quick search that this contractor is not registered to do business in the State of West Virginia.  

When County, State or Federal money is used for a public project, these checks and balances are put into place as not to abuse the public funds or the public trust.  Banks, corporations and governmental bodies will perform a background check or “due diligence” on a perspective contractor prior to signing a contract.

We could find no record of the repairs and restorations performed in any detail.  

Bills were submitted to the Deputy Chief Clerk through the county Commissioners and were paid upon approval of the commissioners.  Final payment was not withheld as suggested in the letter from the Division of Labor.  This was due in part to RJ Kunkle submitting the final bill prior to the county commissioners receiving the certified letter issued on August 29th.  Since there is no performance bond issued for this project and no means of withholding final payment, the Division of Labor must seek other means of securing funding for the three alleged violations.

As we go to press, we have received this email from the WV Department of Labor: 

“Mr. Zorn,  Following is the statement from Labor until the matter is closed:  This matter is an ongoing investigation and no information can be released at this time. State code requires that the information remain confidential until the investigation is complete.     – Catherine Zacchi, Communications Specialist, West Virginia Dept. of Commerce, Communications.”

We will follow this matter until the investigation is complete and a resolution is brought to light.