One of the hallmarks of Jim Justice’s stance as governor has been his tendency to fire or lower people with a hat, a trait he apparently carried from his private sector personality.

This includes small, vengeful shootings, like when thrown Nick Casey as his chief of staff after Justice returned to the Republicans, or ousted the old state Competition Commission head Jack Rossi after learning that Rossi was serving as cashier for Ben Salango’s governing campaign.

We have read how Justice tried to get Marshall administrators to resign Doc Holliday as a football coach, and I understand that he tried on at least one occasion to fire me.

Which leads us to read the tea leaves in the staff mix in Department of Administration AND Revenue Department, where, suddenly, it was quietly announced that the Insurance Commissioner James Dodrill would “withdraw” then Allan McVey sat down from the Secretary of Administration to the Insurance Commissioner and talked about the long-awaited pension Public Employees Insurance Agency Director Ted Cheathamwith

For 14 years, Cheatham’s service as director of PEIA has been exemplary.

Of course, there have been street clashes, mostly involving efforts to promote exercise and healthy living initiatives, including one that was widely denounced as a “fat tax” and quickly abandoned. (For the record, my BMI is 22, according to the PEIA calculator given to promote that program.)

In particular, PEIA has spent three consecutive years without a premium increase for active employee coverage. How many health insurance plans can make that claim?

However, PEIA has also been a hotbed for the administration of Justice, contributing to the emergence of two teachers across the state to protest against a combination of low pay and the lack of a plan to ensure long-term stability for health benefits.

Cheatham has never been one to tear words about PEIA’s financial condition. Last fall, for example, he said rising medical and pharmaceutical costs are likely to make the current 2021-22 plan the last year without a premium increase — even with $ 105 million IN Rain Day PEIA Fund that lawmakers created after exiting 2019.

Cheatham is also likely to have clashed with Justice earlier this year over the governor’s office’s insistence on contracting PEIA’s Medicare Advantage Plan to offer two years before the end of the years with Humana.

Announcing the request for proposals, Cheatham seemed almost forgiving about returning the contract to supply, saying of the Humana plan, “There are no financial issues. There are no quality issues. There are no service issues.”

Of course, the speculation at the time was that the reprint had to do with the fact that the Justice’s personal lobbyist (for The Greenbrier), a political adviser and consultant in the Justice 2020 re-election campaign, Larry Puccio, also represented a rival healthcare and insurance company, United Health Care Services, which offered for the contract, but lost to Humana.

As noted last month, this seems to be a model for the Justice administration, which currently has an advertising and marketing contract from the State Department of Health and Human Resources, to offer, although the current contract holder, Manahan Group, is not even half the life of its contract, counting the years of the option. Here the owner of the company was properly noted George Manahan often produces campaign spots for Democratic candidates, including Sen. Ron Stollings’s 2020 gubernatorial race.

Cheatham’s sudden departure could not have come at a more inopportune time.

For the PEIA director, this is the busiest time of the year, as the agency is working on developing benefit plans for next year.

asset October 21, in what will be Cheatham’s penultimate week as director, the PEIA Finance Board will receive the preliminary benefit plan for budget year 2022-23.

In November, after Cheatham retires, the Finance Board will hold six public hearings across the state over 11 days, and, theoretically, use the information from those sessions to make adjustments to the final plan, which will be approved in December.

The PEIA approves the plans six months before they enter into force, in order to give priority to various agencies and government units if they need to adjust their finances accordingly.

For Cheatham to retire in the middle of this process would be tantamount to my retirement after the third week of a legislative session. Time just does not make sense.

Cheatham declined to comment on his retirement, but we can assume that for one or more reasons, he has been on the wrong side of Justice.

Likewise, by all accounts, Dodrill was doing exemplary work as an insurance commissioner, including expanding the commission Fraud Unit, reappointing him to the Special Investigation Division, and expanding his scope beyond consumer fraud.

Dodrill’s departure was announced in a secret press release released Friday long ago Labor Day weekend, stating only that he “will resign as West Virginia Insurance Commissioner” but will continue to serve in that capacity until his replacement is appointed.

The commission staff, I was told, was not even given much notice of Dodrill’s pending departure.

Meanwhile, we know McVey had problems as a commissioner, returning when he tried to oust the Administrative Law judge Rebecca Roush when she was falsely accused of sending threatening messages on social media to an employee (who later pleaded guilty to sending fake messages to herself).

Justice at Wednesday’s state conference on COVID-19 downplayed staff changes, saying: “There will be times when people retire or continue … Our cabinet is functioning and functioning very well.”



As has been repeatedly noted, regardless of his physical stature, Justice can be a small, small man.

One of the routine things I write about every year is the issuance of state utility property tax assessments for the coming year, with state law broadly defining public utilities as everything from traditional electricity, water and natural gas companies to railways and airlines and telephones and cell phone companies.

Prepared by the Property Tax Division i Tax Department, estimates are significant in that the resulting property taxes go a long way toward funding public schools and county governments, and they also provide an overview of the state’s economic health, depending on how the corporate asset value trend in state year after year.

For many years, as a matter of routine, I received a one-page copy of the document on the same day it was presented Public Works Board, as of press time on Friday, I have not yet been able to obtain a copy of the 2022 estimates now three days after my initial request.

After not receiving any response from the Tax Division for a day, I called Kathy Torlone, executive assistant to the Secretary of Revenue Dave Hardy, who said the department did not have access to the document.

Asked how Revenue Department there would be no access to a document produced by the Property Tax Division, she said, “Everything has to go through the governor’s office.”

Checking later, she said she had not yet received authorization from the governor’s office despite numerous questions.

“I can not send anything without the permission of the governor’s office,” she said.

A request for Freedom of Information was also rejected.

This is not the first time this has happened to me, nor to other Gazette-Mail journalists, another case of obstruction simply because Justice is not interested in Gazeta-Mail’s aggressive coverage.

Either way, the next time Justice goes on about open governance and transparency, you may know that he is giving you dem-in-know-what on a silver platter.


We like to have fun with the retired South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper every 10 years, as he spends hundreds of hours diligently and dedicatedly compiling his personal versions of House, Senate and the redistribution maps of Congress, but those maps serve a significant purpose.

Cooper’s only motive is to come up with districts that are as equal in population as possible and meet high standards for compactness, continuity and safeguarding the common interests of the community.

This makes his maps more than a fun diversion. They can serve as an important counterpoint and contrast to maps House of Delegates AND Senate are producing.

Cooper does not attract districts to protect actors or to make it harder for opposition party candidates to win.

While the House will go to 100 districts with one member, each with an ideal population of 17,937, the cities (which tend to vote blue) will have to be divided.

Do divisions preserve the continuity and common interests of the community, as Cooper aims, or diminish democratic votes?

You have to be the judge.


Finally, here is my shallow end dip regarding the new name for the Charleston professional baseball team:

Despite the criticism of the new name, he makes it clear that coal mining is part of our past, not our future. The use of canaries by miners to detect methane gas was a practice of the early 20th century, not a modern mining technique, which tends towards blasting mountain peaks.

Tributes to the canary at the coal mine also send the message that coal mining was a dangerous and dirty enterprise. If you enter a mine, the best result you can hope for is to come out at the end of the day covered in coal dust.

Nickname Power was deliberately chosen to pay tribute to the state’s extractive industries, and the team initially had mascots representing various energy sources, including coal and natural gas.

If it had been my choice, would I call the team “Dirty Birds?” No, but there are worse choices.

The worst alternative of all would be not to have professional baseball in Charleston and to have an empty park in the middle of the city. We should be happy that the current ownership group has chosen to keep a team here – as long as we support it.

Moreover, the team will continue to wear Charlies uniforms two days a week, and from Atlantic League generally plans Mondays as vacation days, amounting to one-third of all games.

As noted, perhaps some of the outrage right over “Dirty Birds” could be directed at high schools across the state that continue to use insensitive racial nicknames.