At 7:30 Wednesday morning, the district's state senators and delegates sat down with a group of local residents and business owners to discuss how they might address issues affecting the local economy.
The discussion touched on a diverse group of issues presented to them by the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce including the costs of the regulatory burden on businesses, education, mandatory paid sick leave, flexibility in the workplace scheduling, health insurance, prevailing wages and personal property taxes for business.
As is always the case when discussing a broad spectrum of complex issues, there was not enough time to go into great depth on any of the issues or to satisfy the concerns of all those in attendance.
The event did, however, give our representatives a clear message that business owners and everyday citizens alike expect them to address their concerns during the upcoming session of the legislature.
The fact that all four of our representatives, Sens. Walt Helmick, D-15th District, and Clark Barnes R-15th District, Delegate Mike Ross D-37th District, and Bill Hartman D-37th District, accepted the chamber's invitation and attended the Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce was strong evidence that each of them are anxious to hear from their constituency and take their responsibilities seriously.
For the past several months, Ellen Spears, executive director of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, has been working with Randall Underwood, chairman of the chamber's Government Affairs Committee, and representatives of local businesses determining what they considered the most important issues confronting the business community that may have the greatest impact on the local economy.
Of the issues addressed, education and health care attracted the most attention. While other issues received a lesser degree of attention, that does not necessarily mean that they will receive less attention by our representatives during the upcoming session. The details of the discussions that ensued regarding the issues were well covered in Friday's edition of The Inter-Mountain. There is no point in rehashing them here.
Suffice it to say that there is a lot of work to be done, in not only the area of education and health care, but also the entire spectrum of issues presented to legislators.With regard to the discussion on education, there is no doubt that educators will take exception to the views expressed - and, in all probability, some with good cause.
The school system is burdened with so many liberal programs to ensure that "no child is left behind" and countless others that put such a burden on our educators' that they hardly have time to teach. Perhaps these should be reevaluated and, in some cases, eliminated.
There is another problem that I believe overrides all others - discipline in the school.
This problem has its geneses in the home. It is truly an infringement upon teachers' time and that of fellow classmates when unruly students cannot be made to behave in the classroom for fear of retribution from parents.
Also, there is the ever-present threat of irate parents.
Some might remember the threatening situation a fourth-grade teacher faced a few years ago in one of our New England states.
One of his students took her report card home and the next day the girl's father stormed into her classroom threatening to "beat the hell out of the teacher" for giving his daughter Ds - what she deserved according to the report.
How could anyone teach and honestly grade students' performance under these conditions?
Another disgraceful scenario is that of having to post law enforcement officers such as deputy sheriffs and state police in schools to maintain order.
Yet another is the objections of parents to "school lock downs" when there is suspicion of drugs being distributed in the school's hallways or stored in students' lockers. If the answer to all these problems is out there, and you know what they might be, our government officials would like to talk to you.
Additionally, parents of students who go to school to learn and are hindered by the disturbances of others would also appreciate any help available in eliminating these problems.
It's like Hartman said, "These are issues that can not be regulated or controlled by government."
I also mentioned that health care was one of those issues receiving a great deal of interest at the Legislative Breakfast. Here, too, the voluminous array of challenges facing the small business owner with providing health care to its employees is overwhelming. While each representative agreed that everyone should have health care insurance, the great obstacle is providing it at a cost that does not bankrupt the business.
While providing health care coverage for large companies with hundreds of employees is a major "bottom line" consideration, providing coverage for employees in a company with only 10 or 15 employees in most cases is prohibitive.
As Ross pointed out, underwriters can insure large numbers of employees at a much more attractive rate than the few of a small company. If there was a disappointment in the event, it was that there were only 60 people there. There should have been three times that many.
While it is understandable that all 256 members of the Chamber of Commerce couldn't be there, one would think that of that number there would be a greater interest in what their chamber is doing to promote the economic climate of the area as well as getting the word across to their local legislative representatives what issues are affecting the success of business in the area.
Hartman probably said it best when he said near the close of the forum, "Small business is the backbone of the economy of our local area and the state. They must organize and get involved in government or nothing will change. The ball is in your court."
One member of the group that I talked with after the meeting adjourned, who wished to remain anonymous, said of those that didn't attend that it is easier to sit and criticize than to take time to join the efforts of the few.
As far as I can learn, this was only the second such forum in the history of the ERCCC.
To say that it was a success is an understatement - but it could have been much better attended. Let's hope that next year's event will see a much larger attendance. Spears, Underwood and all those who worked so long and diligently to make the event a success are to be congratulated.
Each has taken to heart the commitment of seeing Elkins and the surrounding community grow and become an even better place to live, work and relax. Huntington Bank and the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the breakfast.
Here's a suggestion for the lady of the house, or whomever plans to fix breakfast this morning: If you don't feel like cooking, take the family to Applebee's for breakfast and in doing so support our Randolph County Community Arts Center.
A breakfast of pancakes, sausage and a beverage is being served from 7:30 a.m. until 10 a.m. All proceeds benefit the RCCAC and its many worthwhile programs. Tickets are $5. If you don't have a ticket, they will be available at the door.
The Davis Health System Foundation will host its second philanthropic seminar in the Davis Memorial Hospital's boardroom at noon Feb. 19. There is no charge for the seminiar and lunch will be provided.
This is the second seminar in the Foundation's efforts to encourage local financial planners and estate attorneys to remind their clients to support their favorite charitable institution when planning their estate and would hope that the DHS Foundation would be one of their considerations.