Ben Salango, a Charleston-based personal injury attorney and business owner, was appointed to the Kanawha County Commission Thursday night.
Kanawha County commissioners Kent Carper and Hoppy Shores chose Salango to fill the seat vacated by former commissioner Dave Hardy. Salango was chosen after commissioners conducted public interviews with nine candidates during the meeting.
“I appreciate the faith the commission’s put in me and I’ll do my best for the people of Kanawha County,” Salango told reporters after the meeting.
Salango is a partner and owner of the law firm Preston and Salango, and an owner of Section 304, a West Virginia apparel company. He helped found the Charleston Montessori School, he said. He serves as finance chairman on the Kanawha County Democratic Executive Committee.
Salango, 43, has two sons, who are 14 and 9 years old. His wife, Tera Salango, was a Kanawha County assistant prosecutor for more than a decade before joining Salango’s law firm, he said.
Shores and Carper interviewed a total of nine candidates during a public meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. Candidates — seated at a table at the front of commission chambers — took turns answering questions.
Commissioner Shores’ questions, read by County Engineer John Luoni, concerned what each candidate thinks about counties using home rule, a program that allows local governments to enact policies specific to their needs autonomously from state government. He also asked whether candidates, if chosen for the job, planned to stay. It wasn’t clear if Shores meant in staying the job or in the county.
Carper said choosing Salango was part “gut check.” He liked that Salango opposes counties using home rule. Carper previously has opposed counties using the program.
“I, frankly, think that home rule for counties will mean higher taxes,” Carper said after the meeting. “... I separate that from cities. Cities are totally different. But there’s a move on at the Legislature to shift every cost they can think of to counties and they call it a ‘new tool in the tool box...’
“Home rule is new taxes,” Carper continued. “Taxes you’ve never seen before. And if we have to reduce the size of government more, we’re quite capable of doing. That’s commissioner Shores’ opinion, that’s my opinion.”
Carper said he also likes that Salango doesn’t have a background in government work and that he has school-aged children.
“I think he brings some fresh eyes — a lot of candidates did,” Carper said. “Is one far superior to the other ones? I think in this particular case, I thought Mr. Salango was the best choice.”
Salango said he wants Kanawha County to have more youth sports activities.
Salango will serve on the commission through 2018, when an election will be held for the seat. Salango said he would make his mind up later about whether to run for the seat.
“What I’ve said before is I’m going to see if I like the job, and I’m going see if I can do some good at the job,” Salango said. “If I do well at it, then I’ll run. And if I don’t, then I won’t.”
Hardy, who had been on the commission since 2001, resigned after Gov. Jim Justice appointed him secretary of the state Department of Revenue.
Other candidates for the position included Patricia Hamilton, longtime head of the West Virginia Association of Counties; longtime County Commission attorney Marc Slotnick; Charleston City Treasurer Victor Grigoraci; former state auditor candidate Mary Ann Claytor; real estate agent Todd Goldman, son of former Charleston mayor Jay Goldman; Charleston attorney Gary Pullin; former Tornado Volunteer Fire Department Chief Gregory Scott Childress, and Dunbar resident Mark Halburn.
Longtime Jefferson County administrator Leslie Smith had applied but she doesn’t live in the correct county magisterial district. Applicants must live in districts 2 or 3 to be considered for the seat. She withdrew her application.
Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Tod Kaufman administered Salango’s oath of office immediately after he accepted the position. He was sworn in during the meeting with his wife and two children at his side.
Reach Lori Kersey
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