Statehouse beat: Is $175K salary justified?
It arrived four days after my initial inquiry, but I finally got an official explanation for why James Hunt, the project manager for the state museum construction, is still on the Division of Culture and History payroll: The museum's not finished.
Spokeswoman Caryn Gresham said Hunt is working on additional enhancements to the museum, as well as overseeing the upgrade of the storage space on items not on display in the museum.
She said Hunt is still looking at augmenting some of the exhibits, and is working on a request for proposals to install additional special effects and animatronics to the museum displays.
(Not animatronic like Lincoln at Disney World; animatronic like the current portraits in the representation of Independence Hall in the state museum that light up and talk if you get too close to them ...)
Whether that justifies the more than $175,000 in salary and travel expenses Hunt has been paid since the museum was opened in June 2009 is open to discussion.
Meanwhile, Wess Harris, labor historian and editor of "When Miners March," said he finds it ironic that the state spent $17.6 million on the state museum, and paid more than a half-million dollars to an out-of-state project manager, but could not find the resources to hire a historian or historians to oversee the project.
(Culture and History lists five state historians as consultants on the museum, but in interviews all but one have described their involvement in the museum planning as ranging from cursory to non-existent.)
Harris, who has taken more than 800 visitors on "truth tours" of the museum, pointing out technical errors and political whitewashing regarding coal exhibits, said he believes the issue will come to a head in July.
That will be the first anniversary of United Mine Workers President Cecil Robert's letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, asking for a review of errors and inaccurate portrayals of the state's coal mining history in the museum.
To date, Harris said, only three minor revisions have been made to accompanying text (that those of us over 50 with cataracts can't read in the museum's dim lighting, anyway ...)
Regarding last week's item on the installation of wooden outdoor furniture made in Indonesia on the Capitol complex green space between buildings 5, 6 and 7, Oval Construction manager Jim Carney sent along an email noting, "An uninformed reader may deduce from your column that Oval Construction had or has discretion regarding the selection of the furniture and bollards. We, of course, have zero discretion."
He enclosed spec sheets for both the outdoor furniture and the bollards from the Department of Administration.
The specifications for the outdoor furniture state that "Country Casual or equivalent" was to be furnished -- and the furniture installed is indeed from the Gaithersburg, Md., company.
The specifications for the concrete bollards not only spell out the exact dimensions for each (30-inch diameter and 32-inches height and 1,155 pounds weight) but include photographs from the manufacturer in Wausau, Wisc.
(Which means that when Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith was quoted as saying he would not have approved installation of the bollards had he known what they would look like, he either failed to look at the spec sheet, or isn't telling the truth ...)
By the way, I got a kick out of the title line for Carney's email: "Mongo only pawn."
It's fair to say that outgoing state Republican Party chairman Mike Stuart's fate was sealed early in March when he was called into a closed door meeting with GOP state senators in Minority Leader Mike Hall's office to explain why he had called for a recall election for table games at the Mardi Gras Casino, without running the idea past them or other party leaders.
Having a state party chairman feuding with the party's ranking member of the Senate (not to mention a candidate for statewide office with an arguable chance of winning) is not something that can persist in an election year.
It's not the first time Stuart's lone-wolf style has gotten him in trouble with Republican leadership.
That being said, Stuart had a unique ability to attract headlines as Republican chairman, making a party that represents less than one-third of registered voters in the state seem like credible competition to the Democrat majority.
Finally, I've been overwhelmed by the many kind words and thoughtful comments regarding the recent reference here to my mom's failing health.
I didn't intend to elicit sympathy, but to provide a personal illustration of how important it is for people at that stage of life to have quality caregivers, and how useful new legislation recently signed into law by Tomblin requiring the Bureau of Senior Services to maintain a registry of approved in-home care providers will be.Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.