LOGAN — As the owner of seven businesses, including one that opened just this year, Diana Barnette has invested into her lifelong home of Logan County and other parts of southern West Virginia, and she hopes her extensive business experience will help propel her to a seat on the Logan County Commission.
Running as a Republican, Barnette faces off against Democratic candidate Dr. Mason “Ed” White in the Nov. 3 general election. Both are running for an open seat on the commission after Democrat Willie Akers chose not to seek re-election.
Barnette was raised in Logan County and graduated from Logan High School in 1980, later attending Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. She worked at Logan Bank and Trust for three years and then began working at a machine shop in Holden called Mining Repair Services, where she would meet her future husband and business partner, Ronnie Barnette.
In 1987, she and Ronnie bought the business from their boss and changed the name to Mining Repair Specialists. The two would go on to start two businesses at the Fountain Place Mall — the Fountain Place Cinema 8 movie theater in 2006 and Gatti’s Pizza in 2008. They have branched into other areas as well, such as with the Lewisburg Cinema 8.
Their newest business venture is the Appalachian Outpost cabin rental and retail development site at the old Rita Mall location at Lyburn near Man, which opened this year.
Barnette said she decided to mount a bid for county commission because she saw the perfect opportunity to make a change in her community, highlighting her go-getter and aggressive approach toward business.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Barnette said. “I don’t sleep at night, thinking of all the things that we can have here in Logan. I think I have energy, I think I’m not afraid to make mistakes, I’m not afraid to take a chance, obviously. I take many chances in my own personal life with businesses. I think we have a community that wants better and can do better, and they just need someone that they can trust and if they have an idea, they can feel comfortable coming and talking to me and telling me what it is and we can make it happen. I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If I can’t get to it one way, I’ll go another direction.”
Barnette added that programs that work in other counties and states can be potentially be made to work in Logan County. The very first goal she outlined during her interview was using her power, if elected, to help further work on the county’s drug epidemic.
Barnette’s next biggest goal is economic development. She has big ideas for Logan County, including a sports complex, manufacturing, a race track and the long-discussed adventure park to be completed. She also wants small businesses to thrive.
“I want entrepreneurs to start out with this tiny little mom and pop store that will just grow and grow and grow,” Barnette said, “and like I said before, I think people are scared, but if you have a community of people with the same goals in mind, we empower each other, and we can make that happen.”
If elected, Barnette said she will head to the Legislature in Charleston and start “screaming for all the things we should have had years ago,” adding, “I want to just aggravate them to death until they give me what I want.”
To get the ball rolling on economic development, Barnette said economic and tourism tax credits could be of benefit, and said the commission needs to have some researchers learn more about acquiring them. She also said some grants and partnerships with corporations can be pursued.
Barnette said she is familiar with the county’s budget and expenditures through her own personal FOIA requests, and with that information, thinks there is some money that can be reallocated elsewhere.
“I think we have lots of opportunities that we are missing,” Barnette said. “I think that there should be some reallocation of funds. I would work one-on-one with each department and start at the top and look at their budget. I’m meticulous when it comes to a budget.”
Barnette used coal reallocation money as an example, which she said is not being spent exactly on the two things it is intended for — one of which is infrastructure.
“I don’t want to be critical, it’s not that I want to be critical,” Barnette said. “I just think that sometimes, if you don’t run businesses … and I run (seven of) them, I know where every dime goes. I know when there’s waste in my company. We have to cut waste. We have to reallocate that money so our county can grow. There are some specific things that need to be changed, and we need to tighten our belts for our future.
“It’s hard to be critical when I think sometimes, people do the best job they can do,” she added, “and just like, we all get complacent sometimes, just like when you pay your insurance on your car. You just keep paying your insurance on your car, two years later, you realize your insurance is too high — you just forgot, you took your eye off the ball and you forgot that it started raising $20 here, $20 there, and before you know it, you’re paying way too much for insurance. I think that’s kind of what happens in the county commission. You just kind of get in the routine of everything, and you don’t realize where you can start saving money.”
Barnette added that the budget has line items for things that are no longer in existence, and some problems with spending beyond the budgeted amount.
“If it’s been appropriated for this line item that no longer exists, then where’s that money going to go? ” Barnette said. “And then there are other line items that are budgeted $50,000 and we’ve already spent $150,000.”
When asked for specifics on the latter, Barnette named community grants projects and parks and recreation as two examples. She proposed alternative ways to offset some of these expenses, such as getting communities together to cut grass and finding people who are well off enough financially to assist with demolition of dilapidated homes.
“I don’t plan on balancing the budget; I plan on having a surplus,” Barnette said. “The amount of businesses that I’m going to bring in here is going to pay taxes, and we’re going to have a surplus.”
Barnette also said she thinks some positions in the county can be eliminated. “Every time I go in the courthouse, the people in the courthouse are working,” she said. “I’m talking about the ones who don’t go to the courthouse.”
When asked how she would work with the other two commissioners, Danny Godby and Danny Ellis, Barnette said it would be “very easy” as she has worked with them before. She said they have the best interests of Logan County at heart, and added that she sits on some of the same boards and attends some of the same trade shows with the county’s administrator, Rocky Adkins.
Barnette said what separates her from her opponent most is her energy, drive and persistence. She notes, however, a longtime personal friendship with White and lauded the clean campaigns both have run.
“Mr. White is a great man,” Barnette said. “He’s been my eye doctor since I was 16, and he does love his county, just like we do, and he does want to make it better. I know he does, so it makes it easy when you don’t have to worry about your opponent trashing you because he wouldn’t trash me and I would never trash him.”
Barnette previously ran for county commission in 2018 as a Democrat, but was defeated by longtime incumbent Danny Godby in the primary. Barnette then switched her party affiliation to Republican.
“I’m running as a Logan Countian who needs both Democrat and Republican votes,” Barnette said. “I’ll need the whole county’s votes … do you think they care if I’m a Republican or Democrat and I go to Charleston and say, ‘Hey, I want this grant,’ ‘Hey, I want this money.’ They’re not going to care whether I’m a Republican or Democrat, and I’m not going to tell them if I’m a Republican or Democrat. I’m Logan County Commission, and don’t forget about us down here. You’re not going to ignore us.”
In order to run in the county’s central magisterial district this year, Barnette said she changed her primary residence to Lyburn — in one of the 13 cabins at the Appalachian Outpost.
“We built 13 cabins, and one of those cabins is my primary residence, and we’re up there every day, all day, every day. I stay there,” Barnette said. “I know that’s something that people say, ‘Oh, she just switched districts so she can run for office.’ I absolutely switched districts so I could run for office. Of course I did! That’s how determined I am to win this election. I will be upfront and honest. Absolutely, that’s exactly why I moved up there, because I want to make a difference. I’m very passionate. I want my kids and my grandkids to be able to stay here.”
Barnette said she supports redrawing the county’s magisterial map into northern, central and southern districts to give the Man area fairer representation. With the 2020 census results coming soon, Barnette said the idea is one of the first things she would pursue.
“Everybody deserves the same representation,” Barnette said. “I just don’t see why anybody would be against it. It’s just fair.”
Other ideas Barnette proposes is the establishment of a website with daily updates on commission business and where the public can comment or make suggestions; staggering lunch schedules so the courthouse is not closed an entire hour from noon-1 p.m.; changing the meeting time from 3 p.m. to a later time of day, citing more accessibility for working people; and installing time clocks for employees for better logging of worked hours.
Barnette concluded that at the end of her six-year term, she would want to see Logan County cleaner, with a more bustling economy that’s adding population instead of decreasing and a different, happier morale that continues to look ahead to the future. She emphasizes that she wants more of the county’s youth involved in local politics.
“I think that we have a lot of good people that will come and step up to the plate,” Barnette said. “They just want to have other people with them. They don’t want to be the only ones standing out there trying to make a difference. ... I think that we have to give hope. We have to give our kids hope and faith and know that this is your home. I just want to get in there and just for six years, because in two years there’s another commissioner and then two years, there’s another commissioner, so let’s get some young people out there. Let’s get some new blood and some really good candidates, then I can leave and somebody else that has the energy and drive that I have can get in there and do some better things. I don’t want to be a career politician.”