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Commission sits down with DOH officials

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Article by: The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — Maybe it’s the warmth of the rapidly approaching holidays, but the Monongalia County Commission left a Friday meeting with West Virginia Division of Highways officials ready to reset the relationship between Charleston and Monongalia County.

But not before an airing of grievances.

“In the first 10 minutes we were able to clear the air,” Commission President Tom Bloom said. “They made some comments and concerns. I was able to voice comments and concerns — everybody listened, and then we moved on.”

Commissioners Bloom, Ed Hawkins and Sean Sikora were joined by Joe Statler for the trip to Charleston. The quartet met with Transportation Secretary Byrd White, Deputy Secretary Jimmy Wriston and Jason Pizatella, a partner with law firm Spilman Thomas and Battle, who brokered the meeting.

All four members of the local delegation characterized the nearly 90-minute session as “very positive.”

The major takeaway — communication must improve. The commissioners said there was a commitment from both sides to make it happen.

“We do have an understanding now that once every quarter we’ll meet with [District 4 Engineer] Darby [Clayton] to discuss issues in the county,” Hawkins said. “Every six months, we’ll meet with Jimmy Wriston and Byrd White.”

Hawkins went on to say that improving communication starts at home, meaning the area must do a better job of speaking with one voice — a critique the DOH has leveled against Monongalia County in the past.

“When we speak and give direction, it needs to be a unified direction that comes forward,” Hawkins said.

Sikora said that one voice isn’t referencing the commission, but the wider community.

“[Wriston] explained that it’s frustrating for them that we never seem to be on the same page and consistent,” Sikora explained. “But that goes for them as well. We relayed to them our frustration that we could all be in favor of a project, but if one person calls, that one opinion can throw off everybody else who wanted something done in a certain manner.”

The meeting also touched on a number of operational changes being implemented.

One of those changes is the recent rolling out of new performance measures for each county.

“So now every county has certain specifications in regard to how many man hours it takes to do each of their activities. So there’s a way to measure each of the counties in regard to performance,” Sikora said.

Additionally, the commission broached the idea of decentralizing the DOH and breaking the state into three regions.

Bloom said it was explained that the 10 district engineers/managers have been given far more autonomy to make decisions within their respective districts, marking what the commissioners called a “sea change” for the agency.

“That’s a very big systematic change that we didn’t realize, and it will clearly help us in the long run,” Bloom said.

All four local representatives said there is a sense that the DOH is in the process of making fundamental changes for the better in the way it operates.

“I just thought it was a very positive meeting,” Statler said. “They talked about the things they had in place and things they’ve already started. I can see it going in a different direction.”

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