By Bob Weaver

Hampshire County bus drivers are upset because Jerry Mezzatesta's $60,000 a year job as a grant writer has been eliminated and the school board has made him the county's transportation director. The current transportation director is being removed to give Mezz the job.

Hampshire citizens were ruled out of order recently and not allowed to speak about Mezzatesta at a Board of Education meeting, although they followed the board's procedure.

The board's attorney told over one hundred protesters they could not speak about personnel issues. The board has since changed its mind.

Mezzatesta, a nine-term Democrat and former House of Delegates education chairman, lost re-election last year after he became the target of an ethics investigation.

The Ethics Commission initially found him not guilty of any wrongdoing. That decision has now led to a revamping of the Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission issued a public reprimand and imposed a $2,000 fine to settle complaints against Mezzatesta and his wife, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of altering or destroying legislative computer records, and were each fined and put on probation.

Mezzatesta says he is not paying, but the Ethics Commission has given him a deadline to ante up.

He is also facing federal investigations regarding wrongdoing, including the misuse of federal education funds.

While the State School Board took over the Mingo County School system for what they said was poor financial management, they have barely slapped the hands of the Hampshire system.

The state's School Building Authority is in conflict with the Mingo system because they are opposing the building of a multi-million dollar high school which will cause long bus rides and close three high schools, all built in the 70s and 80s.

The laundry list of problems linked to misuse of funds in Hampshire is lengthy, according to the state board, which declared the system in a state of emergency.

"Jerry Mezzatesta should not have the option where he goes other than out the door," said Sandra McCune, who's been driving school buses in Hampshire County for 27 years. "He's already messed up the board office. Let's not let him mess up the transportation office, too."

The Hampshire school system "Continues to support him to the hilt," she said.

School officials notified Hampshire schools Transportation Director David Fritsch last week that they're cutting Mezzatesta's job, and that the former delegate will replace Fritsch because Mezzatesta has more seniority, Fritsch confirmed Wednesday. The change would take effect July 1.

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