HOUSE PASSES ANTI-SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION BILL - The House of Delegates passed a bill late last week that allows for county voters to decide whether their local schools should be consolidated.

The bill is being vigorously fought by state education officials and some county school boards, but promoters of the bill say their constituents are fed up with the high-handedness of state officials closing over 300 schools and taking over county school systems when they refuse to consolidate. Larry Williams, asst. chairman of the House Education committee, says the bill gives a little power back to communities.

CRAIGO WON'T RUN - Former Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo has decided not to run for the Fourth District seat he lost in 2002 to Republican Lisa Smith.

Smith and her husband have recently been indicted on tax charges Craigo said it was devastating in the final days of the 2002 general election, when false rumors circulated that he was under federal investigation.

He said he felt vindicated when a federal grand jury indicted Smith earlier this month on charges of mail fraud, tax evasion and failure to pay about one million dollars in employment taxes.

Lawyer and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Lees is the only candidate so far, but others are expected to file this week.

SAGO OFFICIALS REFUSING UMW REPS - United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts is defending the union's legal right to be involved in the Sago Mine investigation, after the company refused to allow union participation.

International Coal Group is saying that the union is seeking to interfere in the probe.

The company accused the union of exploiting the tragedy in an effort to revive its organizing efforts at the mine.

Roberts says the investigation is about finding the truth.

While the Sago Mine is non-union, several miners have asked the UMW to serve as their representative during the investigation.

Over the weekend, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Captio, called for the UMW to participate, saying that federal law allows it.

She called for the most open investigation possible.

As of today, there are still problems related to how the investigation will be conducted and who will participate.

OOPS! - Secretary of State Betty Ireland, who recently created new deadlines for counties if they would change their mind and go to computer voting, is earning a new nickname - Oops!

She says she misunderstood state purchasing laws when her office paid more than $145,000 to a Charleston company without seeking bids for the work.

Dream Catcher LLC received a series of payments last year, each being under ten thousand dollars. It seems to be reaching "common practice standards" at the Mouth of the Elk.

Purchasing over $10,000 triggers the state's bid requirement.

Ireland says she mistakenly thought that the state's constitutional officers were exempt from purchasing laws.

Correcting her problem, she chose Dream Catcher again last week, although it wasn't the lowest bidder.

Ireland, while campaigning, said she is against spending taxpayer money for trinkets with emboldened names of elected officials, alluding to the former Attorney General Darrell McGraw who ordered about $100,000 on pens, pillboxes and trinkets.

"Oops," it turns out Ireland issued 250 coffee mugs in recent months that were paid for by the state, bearing her name and title.

About 200 mugs went to county election officials and workers who attended an election seminar in Glade Springs.

She sent 55 mugs to County Clerks as a thank you to county clerks for their work in the state's special pension bond election.

Ireland originally plead ignorant of the mug buying, but a further investigation indicated there was more than one occasion.

Over the years, elected officials also have been criticized for painting their names on state vehicles.

The state Ethics Commission has refused to rule on whether or not the practice is unethical.

Ireland's spokesman said the cups were not designed to promote Ireland or her office.

She criticized former Secretary of State for problems he had related to bidding and inserting his name on documents.

WEST VIRGINIA'S "ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT - West Virginia's economic development grant program was supposed to be the largest single job creator in the state.

In the past two years, nearly $225 million dollars in grants have been awarded, but fewer than a thousand full-time jobs have been created.

The Charleston Daily Mail says less than 60 percent of the grant funding has been spent so far.

Former Governor Bob Wise predicted the program would create thousands of jobs.

Development Authority reports show the projects created more than three-thousand jobs, but only 884 are full-time and permanent.

The state has extended the funding of school projects as "economic development."

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