CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Monday he felt it was appropriate to scale back the traditional Christmas holiday parties at a time when he is calling on state agencies to make further budget cuts.
"It's a cost-saving measure," he said. "I'm asking everyone to cut back some more in their departments, and the [holiday] party tent is expensive to put up."
Instead of holiday parties held at the Governor's Mansion, using a large rental tent to accommodate the crowds, the governor and first lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin will host scaled-down parties at the Culture Center.
Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Schuler Goodwin said the primary savings will come from not having to rent a large party tent. In 2012, the state leased a 40- by 50-foot tent from A-to-Z Rentals in Huntington for $24,500. Costs for additional rental equipment for the tent -- primarily for propane heaters and fuel -- ran an additional $6,941.
Other party policy changes: Instead of hosting four to five parties at the Governor's Mansion, the Tomblins will host just two parties at the Culture Center: on Dec. 6, for guests within close driving distance of Charleston, and on Dec. 7, for guests from northern parts of the state.
"It gives the opportunity for more people to see each other at these events," Goodwin said of having fewer but larger parties. No dress code is stipulated on this year's invitations. Past Christmas parties have been either black-tie, requiring tuxedoes and formal wear, or black-tie optional.
Using a party tent to provide a dance floor and additional space for Governor's Mansion parties has been a matter of debate since 2007, when Gov. Joe Manchin used donations to purchase a 50- by 80-foot tent for $126,000.
Unlike other tents, comparatively inconspicuously placed in the mansion's rear courtyard, Manchin's tent was located beside the Governor's Mansion and was plainly visible from Kanawha Boulevard. That tent ultimately was sold at Internet auction for $37,550, and was dismantled in April 2011.
Two years earlier, first lady Gayle Manchin proposed a fundraising campaign to build a permanent banquet hall in the same location.
Goodwin said the Governor's Office has heard no complaints about moving the invitation-only parties out of the mansion. There will be open houses at the mansion prior to each party, from 5 to 6 p.m.
"The governor believes, as the first lady believes, the Culture Center is an amazing facility," Goodwin said.
The State Museum on the lower level of the Culture Center will remain open during the Christmas parties, she said.
Tomblin said additional space in the center will also allow for performances by student musicians at various sites, in addition to having a dance band in the Great Hall.
"Guests will have the opportunity to see them performing in different parts of the building," Tomblin said.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.