Teays Business Owner Angry At Planning Commission
For generations, the Meeks Family has been providing business storefronts, an office building, industrial buildings, constructing homes and recreation centers. In addition to providing jobs and homes, the Meeks businesses have provided hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to Putnam County. Yet, he says he is angry at the way he is being treated by Putnam County officials.
Recently, Robert "Tim" Meeks decided to add Entourage Limos to his portfolio. Now, he says he is being harassed by Putnam County officials because he parked his limos next to C. Adam Toney Tires, another business that he constructed.
"You pay these people to provide a service, and they harass you," says Meeks. "
Meeks is not the only one that parks vehicles where people see them. Ward Insurance, 800-Got-Junk, and a lengthy list of politicians park their cars in public places-often in store parking lots. The difference is that Meeks owns his property and put in the parking pad for his limos.
It gets worse. See the signs in the photos above? Meeks leased A & L Hardware to another company in 2011. They placed the Craftsman signs on the landscape strip along the driveway entry. Meeks says he's received a letter from Putnam County saying those signs are illegal.
"Those are tasteful signs," Meeks says. "They are attractive. But the 'Sign Nazis' are harassing me. They aren't even my signs!"
The Putnam County Planning Commission has been under fire for years. Many business owners have privately complained to PutnamLIVE.com about the conduct of Sandra Mellert and her department employees. Most are afraid to speak publicly. All have one message to the Putnam County Commission: The anti-business climate in Putnam County scares new businesses and costs jobs and revenue. It has to stop immediately.
PutnamLIVE.com telephoned Senior Planner Melissa Sargent for comment. All she would say is, "I have not spoken to Mr. Meeks, so I have no comment. I did not realize that he is upset."
That lack of communication, business owners say, is part of the problem. Rather than come out to meet with them, Putnam County officials send out nasty letters. They would like a friendlier, more productive dialogue and a pro-business climate.
Meeks isn't a publicity hound. He would rather run his businesses and spend time with his wife, Melissa, and their children, Ariel, and Thor, than be interviewed about his successes. PutnamLIVE.com often has to pursue Meeks to write a story. However, this harassment has him angry.
Meanwhile, as businesses are being scared away by over-handed tactics by the planning department, Putnam County Commissioners recently announced a tax increase because of lack of revenue to pay for government services.
Meeks, and other business owners say that isn't the solution. Make the county more business-friendly and plenty of business will locate here, bringing revenue and jobs. Raising taxes and harassing businesses, they say, is counter-productive.
Perhaps this article will change that situation.
Admits He Was Behind On Homeowners Assoc. Fee
Judges are supposed to be polite and fair. However, Putnam County's Family Court Judge William M. "Chip" Watkins, III, has been criticized for his behavior in his courtroom.
Late last fall, PutnamLIVE.com publisher Mark Hallburn received a copy of a HOA newsletter listing Watkins and his wife as "Not in good standing."
So Hallburn telephoned Watkins office to get his side of the story. Watkins did not return several telephone calls. So Hallburn went to Watkins office-in person. Office employee Lori Mitchell ordered Hallburn out of the building. So Hallburn responded with a letter to Watkins politely asking for his side of the story and complaining about Mitchell's behavior. Watkins fired back with the following letter:
Hallburn does not feel his respondent status in a divorce case has anything to do with his First Amendment freedoms as a reporter and the public's right to know about public officials. However, Hallburn's divorce case is no longer being heard by Watkins as the above letter was sent to the West Virginia Supreme Court which ordered Watkins off the case. Hallburn feels Watkins should have recused himself.
Not long after, Watkins was named in a Writ of Prohibition by Terry Hamm, and the same employee, Lori Mitchell, that verbally blasted Hallburn at the courthouse was named in Hamm's writ, stating, "unprofessional outburst, which was witnessed by numerous litigants in the reception area."
Still, Hallburn chose not to report on Watkins and Mitchell's behavior passed the situation and letters to West Virginia Record Reporter Lawrence Smith in order to separate Hallburn from the story and eliminate the accusation of bias. Smith telephoned Watkins (seeking comment). Watkins responded with a voicemail falsely accusing Hallburn of showing up with Troy Sexton. In fact, Hallburn and Sexton have never socialized together and have never met with each other outside of each other's offices. (Sexton and his company, Turnpike Chevrolet, have, at times, purchased advertising on PutnamLIVE.com but are not current advertisers.)
In the voicemail, Watkins threatens to sue Smith for libel, saying his HOA fees are paid. However, in the letter to Hallburn, Watkins states, "Thank you for pointing out that I need to get my homeowner's dues caught up. I hadn't been aware of this until now." In fact, Hallburn never made that accusation. He did ask Watkins why he was listed, in the newsletter, as "Not in good standing," a vague term.
Hallburn has filed a complaint against Watkins, citing his letter to Hallburn, with the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission. Now that the recording has been revealed, Hallburn plans a second complaint. (Hallburn first heard the recording on the day this article was published, May 22nd, 2012). Hallburn has never appeard in Watkins' court.
"If Watkins does not want to be questioned about paying his HOA dues, all he needs to do is pay them on time," says Hallburn. "He has lived in the home for a decade or more, I am told. He should know when they are due. If people are late on child support, Watkins has been known to throw some in jail. Is this a double standard? I gave him multiple times to tell his side. He chose to attack me in a letter. I left it alone. Then he brought me into the issue in a voicemail to Smith. He falsely accused me of going to the court with Sexton. That never happened. For Watkins to make such a false accusation is appalling. He needs to be removed from the bench."
Sexton says he is "outraged" that Watkins called him a "child abuser" in the voicemail and falsely accused him of visiting the court with Hallburn. Sexton was convicted of one count of child misdemeanor Domestic Battery after a no contest plea in front of Putnam County Magistrate Kimberly M. Blair-Caruthers. (He says he did not hurt his children, was falsely accused, and pleaded no contest to protect his children from having to testify in court). Blair sentenced him to six months in jail. He appealed and was sentenced to 30 days on appeal to then Putnam Circuit Judge Orville C. "Hobby" Spaulding. Sexton later went back to jail for a probation violation.
Watkins has been the subject of a number of negative comments on the Internet forum www.Topix.com.
Smith has been reporting on issues involving Watkins as well as Kanawha County Family Court Judge Michael J. Kelly, who is now handling Hallburn's case. (Hallburn has filed complaints about Kelly with the JIC and West Virginia Supreme Court). Here are some of Smith's reports about Watkins:
It's The Economy, Scotty!
You may have seen it. The full-page ad that Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards signed on the back page of a community newspaper. He brags about an upcoming Health Fair, the Run for the Wall that started stopping in Hurricane long before Edwards was mayor. Then there's the Independence Day Celebration, and, he brags about the new sprayground, that will open, maybe, nearly one year after Edwards said that it should, and months after it missed this year's spring break.
Ah, political puff pieces. In Putnam County, no one does them better than Scott Edwards.
But who paid for the ad? Did Edwards? Did tax dollars pay for it? Was it tourism dollars? A Charleston media buyer says a full-page ad costs "at least $1,000." PutnamLIVE.com filed a Freedom of Information Act request-and, aside from Edwards telling us to "print what you want," no one at City Hall is forthcoming with cost of the ad. You can forget about criminal charges for the city breaking West Virginia FOIA law, Putnam County Prosecutor Mark A. Sorsaia refuses to charge FOIA law violators.
Ads by politicians never tell the whole story. They just tell stories. So PutnamLIVE.com set out to show you "the rest of the story" about what is happening in Hurricane.
It isn't pretty.
"It's the economy, Scotty!"
In Hurricane, vacant store fronts stand where jobs and revenue should be produced. It wasn't hard to find those vacancies, which were created during the Scott Edwards administration.
The "crown jewel" of the Edwards Administration is the vacant A to Z Supermarket. After more than 50 years in business, the Edwards-supported Walmart killed off this Main Street landmark. The building still stands, as a testimony to Edwards' failed economic plan for Hurricane.
Next to Walmart is The Hurricane Marketplace. Since Edwards took office, Rocky Top Pizza, American Mattress, and the Alltel-Verizon store have failed. Out of 13 storefronts, six remain vacant. Fat Patty's turned the Hurricane Marketplace. So did Shoe Show, according to a city official. Meanwhile, Edwards opened a new business-but even he didn't put it at Hurricane Marketplace. It's in Teays Valley-outside of the city limits-where Edwards does not have to pay his town's Business and Occupancy taxes.
Down the hill from Walmart is the former Saturn dealership. Edwards can't be blamed for Saturn folding nationwide. However, the Martin Outdoors RV dealership and Thrifty Car Sales that replaced Saturn only lasted a few months during his administration. Edwards didn't mention this in his advertisement.
Down the street from the Saturn building is the above empty lot. It's where the Honda Dealership was supposed to be built. However, the Edwards administration continues to fail to get that project done.
During the Edwards administration, Custom Carpets folded, Champion Windows moved in, and then closed the doors behind it as it left the building in the above photo.
Recognize this vacant lot? It's next to Walgreens. No business revenue from this Real Estate either.
The residents of Grace Drive pay the excess levy for street paving. However, as you can see from the above photo, Mayor Edwards has failed to pave their road.
Just up the road are the Walmart neighbors that are still waiting for Edwards and his Putnam County Development Authority to purchase and redevelop. Edwards did make an offer on the blue house-for only $90,000. That's more than $50,000 less than what it appraised for before Walmart was constructed. Why the low-ball offer? Was he trying to take advantage of the Walmart neighbors after their quiet neighborhood was destroyed? You can ask Edwards.
And while you're talking with Edwards, ask him if the taxpayers coughed up the cash for his "puff piece" advertisement. Then ask him how much.
Finally, PutnamLIVE.com borrowed an "eye in the sky." Here's a "bird's eye-viewe of the Honda vacant lot, the empty Saturn building, the vacant lot next to City National Bank, the house for sale next to it, and the vacant land beside St. Mary's and Willow Tree. Edwards hasn't managed to get those projects developed either.
John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things."
Citizens Are Frustrated, Owner Says He Is Working On It
A cemetery is supposed to be a place of dignity and respect, where loved ones are remembered in a peaceful, beautiful setting.
However, the J.B. Bowling Pet Cemetery, off Route 34, is coming under fire for tall grass and a lack of upkeep by some Putnam County citizens.
They Do The Work But Do Not Get The Benefits
We've all seen the 15th Anniversary billboards. We've read the many articles about Toyota adding jobs at the Buffalo engine and transmission plant. And we've seen Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Senator John D. "Jay" Rockefeller and other local politicians celebrating on Toyota's stage.
What we haven't seen is the other side of the story-until now.
"Jane Doe" won't give her real name. But she has plenty to say about Toyota's PR machine and her husband's six-year wait for a Toyota job-while working at the plant for Manpower. Because she was afraid of retaliation, we're hiding her identity-and she met with PutnamLIVE.com far away from Buffalo-so that no one would see her being interviewed.
"He does everything that the Toyota employees do," says "Doe." "But he doesn't get the benefits. When they have special events, he can't participate. And when the team goes to Japan, he has to stay behind. It isn't right."
The mother of school-age children says the lack of benefits is the biggest challenge.
"We can't get a health card," explains "Doe," "because they say we make too much money."
So, she says, her family isn't as well off as employees on the Toyota payroll. And, she says, they don't have the commitment for steady employment. "When the braking problem happened, and, later, the Tsunami, my husband didn't have work." That makes it hard to plan a family budget.
"Jane Doe" isn't alone. For years, PutnamLIVE.com has heard from other workers. But none of them would tell their stories for publication.
And you won't hear Putnam County's political leaders complain. Non-union Toyota is "sacred" in politically-conservative Putnam County. They are glad to have any jobs-especially in a recession. Despite the Manpower situation, Toyota has provided hundreds of jobs to the region, and invested more than $1 billion turning an empty field into a cash cow.
Toyota Manufacturing Adding 80 Jobs
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