(07/22/2005)
By Dianne Weaver

Mingo County is still dead-center in one of the states biggest school consolidation fights.

Coal and timber baron Buck Harless and former state Board of Education President Howard Persinger has filed a new civil suit against Mingo County board members and citizens they claim are holding up the construction of a consolidated high school on land a coal company says they are donating to the project.

The proposed school on Red Jacket mountain is on a 60-acre site currently being extracted by a coal company, the property is yet to be deeded to Mingo County.

Pro-consolidation citizens claim that the board's failure to move ahead with the closure of Burch, Matewan and Williamson high schools and build the new school, currently ten miles from the nearest paved road, will put an irreparable damper on the project.

Board president Bill Duty asked "Would you build a house on property that you do not have a deed?" Duty said he has tried to look out for the public interests, prevent long bus rides and maintain community schools.

The newest petition names the state school board, the Mingo County school board and county board members William Duty, Mitchell Chapman and Michael Carter. A date has yet to be set for the latest case, which will be heard in Kanawha County.

In the affray, board member Mitchell Carter has already run up $16,000 in personal legal fees defending himself in an ethics complaint issued by fellow board member Dr. James Endicott. The ethics commission cleared Carter of wrongdoing.

Last month Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib supported consolidation opponents in a related lawsuit challenging the construction of a new Mingo high school, following the state's takeover of the county school system.

The State Supreme Court then refused to hear an appeal by state officials to hear the case.

Charleston attorney Jim Lees says "We are still on track to get to the heart and soul of the case, and that is the state school board's ability to send duly elected officials notice they cannot perform the duty of their elected office."

A hearing in that case is scheduled for August 15.


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