Community Concerns

CommunityConcerns™: Normantown School CSI

Why is the West Virginia Department of Education Keeping
Intended Torching of the Normantown School Secret?

The Gilmer Free Press

Within past weeks a serious crime attempt was committed at Normantown. The old brick school was entered and elaborate preparations were made to burn it down. Based on reports from well placed sources the perpetrator(S) used an elaborate wicking system to go from the ground floor to locations throughout the building so a match could start a fast moving flash fire.

The Gilmer Free Press

There are several points related to the incident.

  • What was the act’s motive? Why would anyone want to burn down an old building that is a revered Normantown landmark?

  • Was the building insured and if it had burned down who would have collected the money?

  • Were officials with the County’s local fire department notified immediately about the incident and are they involved in any way now?

  • Was Mr. Jerry Hough, our prosecuting attorney, involved with investigating the incident and is he involved now?

  • How is the incident being investigated? It was reported that the WV Fire Marshall was called in.  Was a request made to get more able assistance from the FBI or did the WVDOE make a decision not to involve the agency?

  • Why the secrecy by the WVDOE? Mr. Gabriel Devono allegedly ordered members of Gilmer County’s School Board to maintain silence. One of them was asked about the crime and the individual gave a curt “can’t comment” answer before walking away.

  • Was the incident designed to destroy a building or was there a more sinister plan to harm school children too?

  • What is being done for real- time inspections of all active schools in Gilmer County to ensure that none are targeted for arson and other acts of terrorism to keep our children safe?

Concerns about the incident are justified. The secrecy meshes with everything else the WVDOE has done to keep citizens uninformed. School system finances, school personnel decisions, decisions made behind closed doors for new school sites, backroom deals of various types including no bid contracts, and the most recent MH disgrace of siphoning off school system money for political pandering with full WVDOE approval etc.

Citizens see hulks of burnt down buildings throughout the County to wonder if we have a cottage industry of fire setters.  Also, citizens can cite numerous examples of mysterious fires where cleanups occurred. One of them was the Church near the courthouse.

The Gilmer Free Press

There is no mystery about the intent for fire at Normantown, and crime scene features suggest involvement of highly skilled professionals. The tight secrecy by the WVDOE in keeping “the lid on” is senseless to cause public concern to fester.

Citizens are owed a full report on the planned arson and independent arson investigators from the outside must be engaged although considerable time has elapsed to allow crime scene tampering and contamination.

Could the way the incident is being handled be intentional to comply with business as usual practices in Gilmer County?

The County is not known for its track record in solving serious crimes, and the WVDOE is in total control of this one to determine how the disturbing case will be handled. Dr. Martirano and Dr. Daniel the next move is yours because you are at intervention’s helm with Charleston in charge.

CommunityConcerns™: Can Glenville State College’s Teacher Education Program Be Salvaged?

The Gilmer Free Press

We had Moody’s report about GSC’s lowered bond rating from its risky borrowing, exceeding $30,000,000, which was approved by the Gilmer County Commission. Next, we learned about GSC’s serious accreditation concerns from the iconic Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The WSJ reported that about 30% of an entering GSC freshman class does not graduate. The newest alarm is from the prestigious National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). At the beginning of the 21st century and decades before that time the College had one of the finest teacher education programs in America.

Sadly, that prized status ended. The NCTQ applied an evaluation process containing 20 criteria referred to as standards to rank teacher education programs including GSC’s. Mr. Charles McElwee, a distinguished Charleston attorney reported the rankings in the Gazette Mail.

To quote Mr. McAlwee, “six institutions [in WV]) fell in the bottom half of fully evaluated undergraduate or graduate elementary programs, too low to qualify for a ranking.” Unfortunately GSC’s teacher education program was among the six bottom place WV institutions.

What happened at GSC to degrade its teacher education program?

We hear mostly about the College’s expansive building program as if it alone is the answer to all challenges. However, there is no evidence to verify that the huge loan for building, enabled by the County Commission, helped to improve the College’s academic standing including its discredited teacher education program.

Ax grinders spew venom that GSC’s teacher education program’s problems originated approximately 20 years when another College President served.  An evaluation of facts provides convincing evidence that true causes for the troubled program link to the College’s more recent presidents and boards of governors.

Members of governing boards are determined locally and the Governor of WV approves the decisions automatically. Presidents are hired by sitting boards. How should current governing board members be graded for demonstrated personal knowledge of how a vibrant college should function? Have they comprehended the urgent need to plan for success and to hold administrators accountable, and have they understood the urgent necessity of redirecting GSC?

Assurances regularly emit from the hill that everything is just fine with enrollment and all its programs. Should anyone disagree a member of GSC’s attitude adjustment team dispatches to try to silence concerned dissenters. Regardless, GSC’s faithful well wishers consider the reputation of its teacher education program to be the bell weather of the College’s overall academic health and viability.

The future of GSC and Gilmer County is inseparable. With reference to the triage analogy in medicine we are near or past the “patient can’t be saved” condition.

Governor Tomblin and Dr. Paul H. Hill, the administrator of the WV Higher Education Policy Commission, should form a blue ribbon team of renowned experts to advise the State of options for rescuing the College’s teacher education program.  WV Legislators who oversee higher education functions must involve themselves too in efforts to solve the serious emergency.

If an option still exists, a comprehensive plan should be developed for restoring the teacher education program’s reputation. Those who remember GSC’s program as it once was want a fresh start at this critical period when the State has a teacher education crisis.

Why not reposition GSC to have the premier teacher education program in West Virginia?  That development would be a great asset as our State struggles hard to brighten the tarnished image of its K-12 education system.

CommunityConcerns™: What Is Going On with the County Commission?

The Gilmer Free Press

Unrestricted transparency is one of the most important underpinning of a sustained democracy.  This concept applies to federal, state, and local government.

Where does Gilmer County stand?

We could cite volumes about lack of transparency problems, but this community concern pertains to what is going on with the County Commission.

Citizens hear news in piecemeal and unofficial fashion to contribute to uncertainty, suspicion, and loss of faith in local government.

There has been widespread concern about the Commission’s role with the Minnie Hamilton move for the County’s school board office.  Financial details about true costs of the move compared to the present and how the added expenses will benefit our school children are being kept secret. This includes keeping terms of the lease from the County’s taxpayers.

The way the information is being handled is through the slipshod word-of-mouth approach to fuel more concerns about the competency of local government and to increase citizen anger against the WV Department of Education and its harsh school system intervention practices.

The Gilmer Free Press

Commission, why not publish the official MH lease so taxpayers will be fully informed? Is there something to hide?


The Gilmer Free Press

Another CommunityConcern™ is the way personnel decisions are made at Gilmer County’s Court House to affect fellow citizens.

There has been talk of downsizing because of financial problems to result in job losses which in our economy devastate our already strapped families.

Another serious concern is the way salaries and benefits for courthouse employees are being decided on behind closed doors. 

Citizens hear courthouse leaks about new hiring and overgenerous pay raises when there have been reported layoffs!

How is this possible with serious budget problems?

Something does not sound right and we need elected officials to show responsibility by being open with what is going on with all phases of the Commission’s finances.

Does anyone think that this CommunityConcern™ is unwarranted or is there agreement that our elected official must be held accountable for all financial decisions when local taxpayers pay the bills?

The Gilmer Free Press

CommunityConcerns™: Aborted Gilmer County Special School Board Meeting on June 01, 2015

The Gilmer Free Press

Nothing in Gilmer County escapes public attention and news of the school board meeting demonstrates how information cannot be kept secret.

Here is THE CLEAN version of what happened:

Mr. Devono engaged two lawyers to attend the Gilmer County Board of Education Special Meeting.

After the meeting stalled one lawyer discussed the possibility of continuing by permitting the second lawyer who was there to report on what was learned from deeds for property at Glenville Elementary, Sand Fork Elementary, Troy Elementary, and Normantown Elementary Schools. The purpose related to options for disposing of the property.

One of the questions in need of answering was ownership of the land after a school is closed by the State. Specifically, would the land revert to ownership to the family who had donated it to the County for a school?

Prior to a decision on proceeding with the meeting Dr. Carl Armour suggested that someone in authority should be called to get instructions if the change for the meeting would be legally permissible.

His rationale pertained to the unusual circumstances. Instead of the second lawyer giving his report, the first lawyer called a person he identified as someone at the WV Ethics Commission.

The opinion given by the Charleston official was that the meeting should not proceed. There was an error in the published agenda with the entry that the board would make a decision on the board office being moved to the old Minnie Hamilton site.

Also, there is a provision in the West Virginia Open Government Proceedings Act (WVOGPA) that because the agenda was erroneous and a public notice was not filed with corrections within two business days of the meeting, continuing with the meeting would violate the Act.

After Mr. Devono heard the opinion from the Ethics Commission authority he ended the meeting.

Mr. Devono stated that the meeting would be rescheduled and he said later that the board office move issue would be on the agenda for the regular monthly meeting on June 15, 2015.

It was understood that had Gilmer County’s school board acted on Mr. Devono’s proposed move to the old Minnie Hamilton site that would have been inappropriate for local board to do in addition to reasons covered by the WVOGPA.

First, the board lacked authority to take any action whatsoever on anything related to facilities because of the WVBOE’s intervention restrictions.

Second, an action at the special meeting pertaining to an office move would have made the board vulnerable to criticism for exceeding its authority under the State’s intervention restrictions when a future WV Office of Education Performance Audits
would occur.

The special meeting had been called by Mr. Gabriel Devono.

The Gilmer Free Press



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