Last updated: February 12. 2014 5:43AM - 5414 Views
Ron Gregory ronjgregory@gmail.com

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Water is a necessity of life and likely has always been.

The chemical spill into the Elk River near Charleston a few weeks ago continues to haunt West Virginia-American Water Company and government officials.

It is safe to say that few members of the public buy the story that West Virginia-American water is now clean and usable. That’s the main reason most Charleston restaurants have signs that say they are using bottled water. Nobody wants to eat food prepared in water that is still unsafe for small children and pregnant women to digest.

The major question all these days later is who was asleep at the wheel, allowing this situation to develop in the first place. There is no way the cavalier attitude of West Virginia-American Water Company officials and spokesmen has done much to reassure the public. In fact, most are outraged when they hear those folks talk.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and his staff have earned the National Review-given title of “most inept” in the nation as they have staggered, wandered and meandered through this mess. State legislative leaders ballyhoo the bills they are passing that they say will give government agencies the authority to enforce regulations regarding chemicals and good water.

That’s sheer posturing. State and federal government agencies already had the power to regulate Freedom Industries storage tanks on the banks of the Elk. To now make it appear they did not, and offer some life-saving legislation, is a bit after-the-fact, if it was even needed. But what it truly represents is legislative leaders who are no more likely than Tomblin and his aides to take blame for the problem they overlooked for years.

Freedom Industries stored toxic chemicals just feet from West Virginia-American Water Company’s intake system. A reputable, caring company would quickly have moved the intake somewhere else. But West Virginia-American Water Company is more concerned, as demonstrated by this incident, with profits than safety. All the nose-lifted executives claiming otherwise are simply lying to the public and hoping someone will buy it.

About the only thing anyone is buying as a result of their spill is bottled water.

Those inside the Park Avenue Restaurant in Madison last week were almost universally requesting bottled water. That’s long after West Virginia-American Water Company and the government gave their “all-clear” notification.

It would be nice for government officials to also reassure the many small businesses they have closed in recent years because of chemical concerns that they had no authority over their storage of toxic material. Wow! So, now Jeff Kessler to the rescue.

Public trust is a difficult thing to earn and something that is quite easy to lose, as I have mentioned before. Telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth can go a long way toward restoring it. So far, the state administration, legislature and water company officials are batting zero in regaining any degree of public confidence as far as the water is concerned.

One West Virginia-American Water Company official insisted last week that he drinks their water as does their entire family. I am not the water company’s public opinion adviser by any means, but I suggest the top brass of West Virginia-American Water Company get with officials from the governor’s office and do a tour of the water company’s system from end-to-end. They should stop every few miles and drink from public fountains and ingest plenty of their “safe” water where the people can see them. That might help a bit.

… Before we go into it, I should likely make another of my many confessions. Opponents can tell you that I am a liar, thief or whatever the current rumor is. I have, as noted many times before, made mistakes. One came in 1972 and the other in 1986. Thus, when I write about the missteps of public and private officials, I know I am not tossing stones from a glass house.

I have told regular readers that I have often fallen behind on bill payments; I have had romantic affairs with a married woman and others I should not have; I have sinned often in the eyes of the Lord, as my hero Jimmy Swaggart would say. Swaggart may be, by the way, the only perfect man I know.

It is pure fantasy, though, when some report I am a drunk, a pill-popper or a felon. I have never been charged with a driving under the influence (DUI) although there are those in Hamlin who will insist I have. They will tell you I spent two nights in jail on the charge, but I never have. I have never been indicted by any jury for a felony. It has never happened. So, before those I cast stones, I can save you time. You won’t find any of those things no matter what anyone in the Oasis on Earth, Hamlin, tells you. On the other hand, I can surely tell you I am a sinner saved, if at all, by God’s amazing grace.

OK. So, last week a basketball coach informed me that he would “whip my a—” if I ever came to Van in Boone County. That comes after many coaches have threatened similar actions in the past. My only request of those who do that while public employees is that they do it openly and in front of a nice-sized crowd, also known as “witnesses.” Simply put, I am a pacifist. I will not hit anyone, either to start trouble or in response thereto. I will, however, be happy to accept a nice check or let my relatives get it, if the attacker successfully murders me.

Having said that, I have laid the groundwork and repeated here several times that I may no longer be welcome in Logan County by some. It’s likely about to get worse.

A reader last Friday asked us at the newspaper to check into the “arrest record” of Brantz O’Briant. According to the informant, O’Briant had been arrested in Cabell County on “drug-related” charges. That was all the information we had from the source.

Immediately, I knew that Brantz O’Briant is the son of Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant. I also know that Brantz O’Briant played basketball at Logan High School with my son, Chay, and was coached by O’Briant’s half-brother, Mark Hatcher.

My son and Brantz O’Briant were friends and teammates. I related here months ago that I had always been a fan of Hatcher and Judge O’Briant. Nothing I am saying here is personal, in other words, though some will think that it is. I am still a Wildcat fan, think Willie Akers is fabulous and am grateful that Hatcher coached my son to a state championship game.

Hatcher recently was in the middle of the Scott-Logan brawl at Chapmanville Regional High School. Eventually, Hatcher was charged with assault and battery on a police officer. I was there and witnessed the incident live and have watched it several times on video. Technically, it is my opinion that Hatcher did assault and commit battery upon the officer. On the other hand, I have said that he will never be convicted of anything in Logan County and he will not even be tried. I have also said that many people do things in the “heat of the moment” that are inappropriate. I still believe that.

Hatcher’s father, CRHS Coach Allan Hatcher, apparently tried to intervene in his son’s arrest. It appears Judge O’Briant did as well. To be factual, Allan Hatcher should never have left his team bench that night to go to the Chapmanville Police Department in defense of his son. He apparently had no leave from game officials to do that and he was in violation of West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission rules. Judge O’Briant should not have appeared in Chapmanville that night, either. But they did. Enough said.

Anyway, this is not about Judge O’Briant, Mark Hatcher or his father. It is about public information and the public’s right to know it.

Upon receiving the tip, I checked with Cabell County police agencies. All were aware of who Brantz O’Briant is, which was not a great sign. Few knew he was the son of a Logan County judge. Although magistrate court and other agencies were already closed for the week, one confirmed a Jan. 11 arrest of Brantz O’Briant. This column is completed on Sunday, so further details will appear next week.

It is not personal.

… Although his friends and critics would both likely hope he’s wrong, Boone County Republican Del. Joshua Nelson tells me the war has not ended over his determination to vote while absent from the legislature.

Nelson said a new bill has been introduced to essentially do what the one killed two weeks ago by the House was intended to do. Nelson is on active duty in the military and cannot be physically present for House sessions. He and his supporters want the House to change its rules and allow him to vote electronically from wherever he is.

The issue has caused quite a stir in the legislature and led to some name-calling of opponents of the bill. The Democrats, at least, who voted not to amend the rules to let Nelson vote were called “unpatriotic” by some.

Frankly, most on each side would just as soon the issue goes away.

I also don’t quite understand why Nelson wants to keep reminding voters in his district that he is AWL (absent with leave) when the legislature is in session. My guess is that strategy will cost more votes than it will gain.

But what do I know about politics?

… Speaking of how little I know about Mingo County politics … critics of Team Mingo, that affable bunch of politicians known for honesty and clean elections, have raised an issue regarding the Team’s early activities. Of course, nobody has questioned anything they have done in recent months as they have traipsed to Charleston on “official business” with the U.S. attorney’s office.

Anyway, paperwork in the secretary of state’s office shows Team Mingo opened their operation with funds already in their account. Political action committees are supposedly strictly regulated by the secretary of state although we have all seen that doesn’t mean much when it comes to election laws. Secretary Natalie Tennant apparently believes election officials can use their own “discretion” as to which election laws must be complied with (see last week’s column regarding the Mingo filing fiasco of 2014).

Anyway, the story goes that Team Mingo’s predecessor group in 2010 did not even bother to register with the secretary of state. When a complaint was made that Team Mingo was formed with “carry-over” funds from the previous election operation, which had not even registered, it is alleged that nothing was ever heard from the secretary of state’s office by those who complained.

Let me try to comfort you now. It is possible, though not likely as we have seen, that Team Mingo skirted the law when they were formed. Please try to control your shock at the news.

… The drinking water aside, Gov. Tomblin does a swell job of ordering the flags to be lowered at the appropriate times. His staff can apparently handle that situation.

… WV Free, the pro-choice group regarding abortion, has taken a leading role in demanding pure, clean drinking water. That might well be a better issue for them in the Mountain State than their ideas on abortion.

As most readers already know, I am what I believe to be a conservative Republican. However, I do not toe every line drawn in the sand by conservatives, Republicans or Tea Partiers.

It is my experience that I have never met someone who is in favor of aborting babies. And I firmly believe that the fetus is a human being at the moment of conception. On the other hand, I do not think the government or anyone else should be able to tell a woman what to do with her body.

I understand the Tea Party and age-old conservative position that the male and female should take responsibility for what they do. I realize there are generally consequences for actions. I fully believe a righteous and just God will deal with violators of his commands.

In Romans 8, God supposedly said “vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” That is quoted by the revised edition of the Bible approved by King James. My conclusion is to let God deal with the abortion question. Republicans fight funding for abortions at their peril, in my opinion. The public is absolutely divided on that issue and it should not be a centerpiece for GOP campaigns. Yet, some cannot keep it from being.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee loves to talk about the subject, for example. In so doing, he often makes remarks that could at least be deemed anti-female.

So, while I generally agree with WV Free on their issues, if I were them, I would keep abortion on the back burner and stick to water.

We all agree that good, pure drinking water is essential. It is an issue we can unite on.

To be honest (where in my contract is that required?), I see little difference between Tea Partiers and John Birch Society members. Both groups have a rigid platform that, if one deviates from it an inch, they cast that person out as a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

I am not a RINO, but a true Republican who doesn’t believe any one group should try to dominate politics.

… Another of the great myths of those who ramble about the Constitution being trampled on is that President Barack Obama “has issued more than 900 executive orders while his predecessors averaged about 30.” The fact is Obama recently issued executive order 168 of his presidency. By comparison, George W. Bush issued 291 such orders in eight years and Bill Cinton put forth 364 in two terms.

Obama is not trying to take over the government by executive order. Check any legitimate list anywhere. Oh, who asked for facts?

… With the legislative session more than half-done, legislators rushed from the Capitol on Friday afternoon to jaunt home to their districts. By 2 p.m., there were virtually no legislators left in the Capitol. With the state’s finances in disarray, the water crisis and so forth, one might think they could have stuck around until … 2:30 at least.

… Those who really understand the state budget process are urging administration officials to look at reinstating the food tax that was removed earlier. The hole created by that politically-motivated decision has not — and will not — be filled.

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Your comments, opinions and tips are always welcome. Use my email address or call my cell, 304-533-5185.

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