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Local man arrested in connection with dangerous downtown pursuit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A 26-year-old Morgantown area man was arrested following a pursuit that involved a Mon County School bus Friday afternoon.

Morgantown police were conducting a security patrol on North High Street when a car driven by Stephen Thomas Cox rolled through the intersection of Prospect Street without stopping, almost striking the cruiser.

When police stopped the car Cox was argumentative, refused to cooperate and pulled away from the scene while the officer ordered him to stop and grabbed the window. Cox then traveled the wrong way on Spruce Street then onto Willey Street.

When Cox passed a school bus on Willey Street students that were getting off had to run for safety.

Soon units from the Mon County Sheriff’s Department and Morgantown police had Cox blocked on Locust Avenue.

Cox has been charged with fleeing in a vehicle with reckless disregard for the safety of others, improper passing, driving against traffic, driving left of center, failure to yield, failure to stop for a school bus, prohibited use of a cell phone, reckless driving and driving on a suspended license. He also had an outstanding burglary warrant from Mon County. He will be arraigned in Monongalia County Magistrate Court.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Judge dismisses WVEA lawsuit regarding color-coded map

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster dismissed the West Virginia Education Association’s request for an injunction in the color coded map used by state officials.

WVEA president Dale Lee issued the following statement:

“We are disappointed in the outcome of today’s hearing. by choosing to use the lesser of the infection rate or the percentage of positive tests, WVEA and its members believe the governor’s color-coded map changes have created a false picture of COVID spread. That has resulted in both education employees and students being placed in unsafe situations.”

The West Virginia Education Association sued the state, saying the map has been adjusted over and over with the intended outcome of keeping classrooms open and football games on the field.

Two other similar cases have also been dismissed.

The WVEA was seeking greater openness to the process, pushing for meetings between the governor and his health experts to be public. The teachers union also wants to open up discussions of a panel of health experts that makes adjustments to the Saturday map.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

AFT mobilizes to oppose charter schools in Mon County

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Members of the American Federation of Teachers rallied at University High School in Morgantown to show support for public schools and oppose a proposed charter school in Mon County.

The legislation passed by lawmakers allows three charter schools beginning in July of 2020. The legislation allows charter schools, but they must be authorized by the county board of education.

The West Virginia Academy conducted a survey of parents of students in Mon, Preston and Marion Counties from April 16 through April 23 and found the level of satisfaction with education is low.

The survey said less than 50 percent of Mon County parents were highly satisfied, less than 15 percent of parents in Preston County were highly satisfied and in Marion County slightly more than 50 percent were highly satisfied.

West Virginia AFT president, Fred Albert told the group of teachers Mon County has no need for a charter school.

“Monongalia County Schools are among of the best schools in West Virginia,” Albert said,” So, it’s important that we’re here tonight to let charter school operators know, and our local school board know your community says no thanks.”

For fiscal year 2019, the West Virginia Schools Balanced Scorecard reports Mon County enrollment was 10,378 and the graduation rate was 90 percent. Additionally, the attendance rate was nearly 95 percent.

West Virginia AFT vice president, Tega Toney said public schools provide what students need, eliminating the need for charter schools.

“AFT is here to show we are against charter schools in Monongalia County and actually the whole state of West Virginia,” Toney said,” We want to show our support for our public schools.”

The West Virginia Academy, established after three charter schools were approved last year, has submitted an application that is under review by the Mon County Board of Education.

“We don’t feel the West Virginia Academy in their proposal they’ve submitted to Monongalia County Schools can offer the students of Monongalia County anything that Monongalia County Public Schools can’t offer them or doesn’t offer them,” Toney said.

According to Toney, approving the West Virginia Academy to operate a charter school would be very risky for families.

“The West Virginia Academy doesn’t have a proven track record, in fact they don’t have a track record, they’re only a few months old,” Toney said,” We’re very hesitant and against allowing them to come in and open a charter school.”

AFT special assistant to the president, Kris Mallory believes there are legal questions that could end up being answered in court.

“We say that it doesn’t meet constitutional muster, we will go after them likely on that argument of the law,” Mallory said,” But, we held off and we want to make sure that we don’t file a lawsuit that gets kicked out because we can’t prove harm or damages at this point.”

Mon County school officials have until October 31 to submit a notice of deficiencies to the West Virginia Academy and they have until Monday, November 16 to address them.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Charleston newspaper claims WVU violated open meeting laws

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Charleston Gazette-Mail has filed a lawsuit in Mon County Circuit Court alleging the WVU Board of Governors violated open meeting laws.

Meetings were held on five occasions where topics like social justice, capital projects, budgets, the pandemic, federal Title IX regulations and tuition, according to court documents.

The West Virginia open meeting statute allows organizations that receive public funds to meet in executive session to discuss topics like litigation and personnel matters only.

The suit filed by Charleston-based DiPiero Simmons McGinley and Bastress seeks attorney fees, asks the court to declare the sessions unlawful and order future executive sessions adhere to state law.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Twenty medical cannabis dispensary applications approved in Mon County

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Mon County Board of Health unanimously approved 20 permits for medical cannabis dispensaries in the county during a special meeting Thursday.

Board members began reviewing medical cannabis dispensary applications in December of 2019, according to executive director of the Mon County Health Department Dr. Lee Smith. Meetings with medical marijuana representatives, state health officials and the Office of Medical Cannabis continues until March of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

Also in March, the city of Morgantown and county commission declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. On March 19, the governor issued Executive Order 7-20 that suspended state business consistent with West Virginia State Code 15-5-6.

“Suspend provisions of any regulatory statute prescribing procedures for conduct of state business,” Dr. Smith said,” Or orders/rules of any state agency if strict compliance there with would in anyway prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the COVID emergency.”

Due to the timing of the pandemic and a 2016 state budget that cut health department budgets by 25 percent, health department workers did not have the resources to manage the pandemic while continuing normal business.

According to Dr. Smith, in 2010 800 people worked in public health across the state and by 2020 that number was down to about 340 workers statewide.

“It’s been stated the Monongalia County Board of Health has been a hold out and this was a deliberate attempt to derail the process,” Dr. Smith said,” But, nothing could be further from the truth.”

In fact, the health department began working seven days a week to manage the COVID response, then March 22 the case was identified in Mon County.

“Here we are on October 22, 227 days later with no end in sight,” Dr. Smith said,” We’ve been working continuously for over two-thirds of this year with a vulnerable staff that has been particularly challenged.”

On June 22, the Office of Medical Cannabis sent 21 dispensary applications to county officials that they said were vetted. Dr. Smith said as the applications were checked they discovered some of the locations were too close to schools or daycare centers.

Health department workers were then required to use the county GIS system and conduct manual measurements to verify each location was in fact at least 1,000 feet from a school or daycare center.

The verification process continued through the month of August when the Office of Medical Cannabis told Dr. Smith they had two more months to score the applications, via email.

“My interpretation is that two months from September 10 would be November 10 at which time the scoring process was to occur,” Dr. Smith said,” So, we are well within the timeline of that.”

The application for a dispensary at 274 Old Cheat Road was not approved because the location is within 1,000 feet of a daycare center.

“The state thought they were 870 feet from it by looking at their map, actually walking it with a wheel from the doorway to the daycare center was 921 feet,” Dr. Smith said,” So, they are outside the limitations.”

Medical cannabis is expected to be available in the spring of 2021.

The following locations have been approved:

  1. Columbia Care West Virginia L.L.C. 225 Don Knotts Blvd
  2. Holistic West Virignia Farms 1 L.L.C. 360 Industrial Dr Star City
  3. Kindred Empowerment 11 L.L.C. 376 Patteson Drive
  4. New Leaf West Virginia L.L.C. 8 Eastgate Plaza Morgantown
  5. Wild & Wonderful Cannabis L.L.C. 629 Cheat Road
  6. The Healing Center 370 Chaplain Hill Road Westover
  7. Organic Remedies West Virginia Inc. 246 Cheat Road
  8. Kindred Empowerment 6 L.L.C. 7,8 Suburban Court Morgantown
  9. Mountaineer Releaf L.L.C 63 Don Knotts Blvd
  10. Cure to Growth Inc. 306 Bull Run Road
  11. Morgantown WV Retail L.L.C. 400 Beechurst Ave
  12. Kindred Medical Cannabis L.L.C. 718 Ventura Drive
  13. Almost Heaven Cannabis Company L.L.C. 709 Beechurst Ave
  14. Solevo Wellness West Virginia L.L.C. 10548 A Maple Dr
  15. Solevo Wellness West Virginia L.L.C. 525 Granville Square Suite 115
  16. True Leaf West Virginia Inc. 1397 Earl Core Road
  17. Appalachian Pharmaceuticals L.L.C. 2045 University Avenue
  18. New Leaf West Virginia L.L.C. 1016 Maple Drive Morgantown
  19. Verano West Virginia L.L.C. 871 Fairmont Road Westover
  20. Verano West Virginia L.L.C. 205 Ventura Drive
Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Local county clerks: Day 1 of early voting was busy and smooth

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In Mon and Marion Counties the first day of early voting was very busy but smooth, according to officials.

In Marion County, clerk Julie Kincaid is navigating her first election since talking over for Janice Cosco who retired after 39 years. Kincaid worked in the clerk’s office for 13 years before Cosco retired, so she’s not totally new to how to keep the process secure and moving forward.

However, add a pandemic and a presidential election and you have a completely different set of circumstances.

“This feels a little bit like baptism by fire, for lack of a better term,” Kincaid said,” If I can get through this, I can get through anything.”

Kincaid says the sites at the courthouse, in White Hall and Farmington have operated with few problems and there is plenty of PPE on hand.

In Mon County clerk Carye Blaney says lines of voters met poll workers as the locations opened.

“We had people who came early before we opened the doors at 9 a.m. at all of our polling locations across the county today,” Blaney said,” Our voters were very anxious to start the early voting process.”

Polling locations are located at the Mountaineer Mall, WVU Erickson Alumni Center, Mason Dixon Park and Ft. Pierpont.

“Right now we’re over 2,500 (voters) and that’s where we’re going to end the day county-wide,” Blaney said.

Electioneering is not allowed at, or within 100-feet of the polls, so, hats, buttons, shirts or signs supporting candidates are not allowed. Following the rules and laws keeps lines moving and gets voters in and out of the polls.

“Even though we had a line when we began this morning none of our voters waited more than 20 minutes to cast their ballot,” Blaney said,” I think that says a lot for our election officials.”

Mon County election officials strictly use the media to get important election information out to the public, not text messages or social media.

“If they receive any information from an outside source they should verify that before they use any of that from a text message or something of that nature,” Blaney said.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Mon County Delegates, commissioners and Morgantown city leaders disapprove of new cannabis dispensary rules

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – All five Mon County Delegates have written a letter asking the board of health to stop their effort to add local regulations to the medical marijuana dispensary permit application process.

Morgantown city council, Mon County commission and some local business leaders have also either voiced opposition or have also written similar letters to health officials.

“We put the letter together because it’s an issue of compassion and trying to make sure medical cannabis is available locally to the people who need it,” Delegate Evan Hansen said.

Medical cannabis dispensary permits were submitted to the state in the spring, then submitted to the appropriate county health department for approval. Mon and Mercer are the only counties in the state that have not approved any permits yet.

State regulations require dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from any school or daycare facility.

Guidance from the Mon County Health Department adds libraries and parks to the 1,000 foot list, while dictating dispensaries must be stand-alone or not in a strip mall and not within 4,000 feet of another medical cannabis dispensary. The new rules also add a requirement for a medical professional to be onsite during hours of operation- a provision state lawmakers struck down in the initial debate. The new guidelines were announced weeks after the health department received 21 applications.

The Medical Cannabis Act passed in 2017 says there will be no more than 100 medical cannabis dispensaries in the state and more than 280 applications were submitted to DHHR Office of Medical Cannabis, according to Hansen.

“We’re concerned dispensaries in Mon County might be left out if the Mon County Health Department doesn’t act soon,” Hansen said,” Because, once the 100 dispensary licenses are given out at the state level there might not be any left.”

Private investment and the local economy are also in jeopardy if the applications, which were completed before new guidelines were proposed, are not approved because of the new rules.

“I can appreciate that members of the board of health might think there are special considerations in a college town and that additional rules might be needed,” Hansen said,” But I think the proper venue for that is the legislature, not a local ordinance.”

In large part, the new regulations address set backs, locations and placement which are all zoning-related issues.

“It’s not appropriate, and arguably not legal for a local board of health to take it upon themselves to add new regulations,” Hansen said.

The Mon County Board of Health has a special virtual meeting planned for 9 a.m. Thursday and a link to that meeting is available by contacting the health department.

“I would like to see the board immediately sign off on the dispensary applications for Mon County,” Hansen said,” Then enter into a dialog with local delegates, but also legislators from across the state to see if we can improve the law at the state level.”

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Morgantown budget shows signs of a comeback

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Officials in Morgantown conducted their fourth COVID-related budget adjustment- this time some items cut early in the pandemic were restored.

To date, the city has received $5,028,590 in CARES Act money and will get another $1 million per month until the end of the year, according to interim city manager Emily Muzzarelli.

Most of the CARES Act money has been used to reimburse the city for first responder COVID-related expenses and restoring contingency dollars. Now, use of the funds will expand to reinstating a 2.5 percent raises, some promotions, filling some open positions and funding other city departments.

“We were able to reinstate the full allocations we previously had for the library, Mountain Line Transit Authority and BOPARC,” Muzzarelli said.

For the future, Muzzarelli says they are exploring the possibility of adding a social worker that could help with some police calls. Councilor Zack Cruze has cited savings reported by cities like Huntington and has supported the effort in the past.

“Some type of social worker or street outreach person to either assist us with some kind of crisis response or to assist with the homeless population,” Muzzarelli said.

Mayor Ron Dulaney has worked on the homeless issue and has long called for some type of solution to help the homeless and improve conditions in downtown.

“I know that councilor Cruze has been a strong advocate for that and the city manager has been very supportive,” Dulaney said,” So, thank you, I’m looking forward to being able to provide those services that maybe we haven’t been able to provide so far on calls.”

Amid the pandemic uncertainty, council agreed to cut $3.1 million from the budget in May when tax revenues plummeted. Dulaney acknowledged the uncertainty is not over, but they are positioned to handle the potential budget crisis.

“One of our primary concerns and priorities was not being in a position where we had to lay employees off,” Dulaney said,” I think that’s been what we’ve been most mindful of, and fortunately we haven’t, in fact now we’re able to offer this modest cost of living adjustment.”

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Greenmont camp residents: ‘Continued attacks on our friends and neighbors will be addressed’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Morgantown officials are taking steps to limit, and control people who are staying in the homeless encampment in Greenmont.

Communications director Andrew Stacy released the follwong statement:

The city is continuing to enforce the plan that was approved by city council regarding the homeless encampment. City officials, Morgantown Police, and representatives from Bartlett House visited the camp and asked anyone not on the registration list to leave the camp and to go to Bartlett House, which is now open 24 hours.

On social media camp representatives called the move a “disruption” and in part, released the following statement:

Coming in with police to destroy someone’s home is not the type of community outreach likely to build the already-damaged trust our houseless community has with Bartlett, nor is it a way to encourage anyone to place themselves under the care of people who will do that. Bartlett’ and the City of Morgantown’s continued attacks on our friends and neighbors will be addressed.

A resident of the camp, Delbert Lemley, 49, was arrested for breaking into the Clear Mountain Bank branch in Suncrest recently. Police say Lemley damaged an ATM, camera and smashed a window to get inside. Allegedly, police found Lemley sitting on a couch in the bank with food and feces littering the floor.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Recent homeless encampment resident charged in bank break in

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A recent resident of the homeless encampment in lower Greenmont has been charged in connection with breaking and entering at a local bank and damaging property.

Police allege Delbert Lemley, 49, damaged an ATM, a surveillance camera then broke a window to enter the building. When police arrive Lemley was found sitting on a couch with food and feces on the floor.

Lemley has been charged with destruction of property and is being held in the North Central Regional Jail.

Lemley was also arrested for breaking without entering within the last 30 days.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV