Tonight, The High Street Hot Dog Man Could Be Forced to Move

So tonight Morgantown’s City Council votes on an amendment to current ordinances that will influence where our late-night food vendors place their carts. Check page 37 of this pdf. 

You’ve probably heard about this – “the petition to keep the Hot Dog Man on High Street?

Yeah, your concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Now City Council is attempting to push this law through at the end of Finals Week, right when there aren’t any students around to voice their opinions.

Tonight, if City Council passes this amendment to 905.02, no food vendors will be permitted on the sidewalk of the 300 block of High Street between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. This only affects one single vendor, currently  – Joseph Byrd, or “The Birdman.” 

Watch the video below to learn his full story.

EDIT: I just spoke to several knowledgeable sources about this ordinance. There seems to be intense confusion. More than anything people need to understand this is not a personal attack on Birdman – it’s about safety. I’m told because Birdman is retreated into the enclave in front of CoolRidge, he’s not technically on the sidewalk and is exempt from this law. The building he’s in front of is owned by George Papandreas, a local business owner.

However, like I said, there’s a lot of confusion about this. It seems like everyone involved has a different understanding of the law and it’s stipulations, which is a problem in itself. I implore you – please come to this meeting tonight and be civil!

You have one last chance to have your voice heard. Go to the Morgantown City Council Meeting tonight at 7:00pm at 389 Spruce Street. There will be a public hearing on the law, and you will have an opportunity to speak.

Tonight I will be live-tweeting the meeting.

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The Daily Athenaeum’s List of Influential People is All-White and All-Male

So yesterday the Daily Athenaeum, WVU’s official school newspaper, had an article on the front page of their paper  listing the “Top 5 Most Influential Persons of 2013.”

Gee, I wonder who is #1?

Gee, I wonder who is #1?

The list includes outgoing WVU President Jim Clements, Student Body President Ryan Campione, baseball coach Randy Mazey, Athletic Director Oliver Luck, and Mountaineer Mascot John Kimble. As you might be able to tell, the list is very white and very male and very sports-oriented. Rightfully so, people had a problem with this.

It all started when someone from WVU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion called out the DA’s list on Twitter.

In case you hadn’t noticed already, @paigelav points out the issue.

But there’s so much more than that:

https://twitter.com/ddryan/status/410541126190256128

And the internet has a field day.

https://twitter.com/maryowlice/status/410448756354473984

The user on the Office’s Twitter then offers an alternative list.

Some of the choices are stellar:

Franklin D. Cleckley is a professor at the WVU College of Law who graduated with a Master of Laws from Harvard. He was the only African-American to sit on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from 1994-1996.

Frances Silva is a senior forward on the WVU’s Women’s Soccer Team. She was the 2013 Big XII Offensive Player of the Year and led the team to victory in the Big XII Championship (the only championship WVU has won this year, so far.)

Brian Jara is a faculty member in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. It looks like he’s published some papers this year and presented them at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Cincinnati.

– Deb Beazley is a Senior Program Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention at the Health Sciences Center. She’s been teaching sexual assault prevention classes since ’98 and coordinates High Expectations, an experiential learning program for students cited for drug or alcohol abuse.

– Elaine McMillion is an award-winning documentary storyteller who graduated from WVU’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Her most recent project, an interactive documentary called Hollow, explores the issues of rural Appalachia through the eyes of people living there.

– Narvel Weese is WVU’s Vice President for Administration and Finance. Weese oversees the University’s finances, facilities, human resources – basically everything involving WVU funds. 2013 has been a busy year for him, considering WVU’s recent expansions and growing pains.

– Ruth Kershner oversees Student Affairs for the School of Public Health and teaches in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her bio says she’s presented at local, state and national conferences on issues of health concerns and violence in the lives of women.

What’s true is this – when it comes to most visible, everybody on the DA’s list is well-known. I’m only familiar with one person on the suggested list, but the beauty of a top-5 list is the chance to recognize less-visible people who have made an impact. Although he’s an influential guy who deserves it, Clements has gotten enough limelight already.

While people are quick to point out the “WASP-y” nature of the DA’s list, think about the circumstances influencing the editors. I assume the list was put together late at night, which is validated by the clear typo in Ryan Campione’s name. Do you make quality work when you’re on a deadline? It’s also not surprising the list is sports-centric, considering the influence of the DA’s sports editors. They must have influence – why else would the paper spend thousands to send reporters to away football games when our own band can’t attend?

These circumstances don’t justify the DA’s monochromatic, single-sex list (nothing will) but they do explain it. Hopefully the feedback will give the editors pause. They’re funded by WVU student fees, an oft-fleeting source of income for school papers, and could make the DA a national-award-winning paper like it used to be. Now they just make national headlines for gaffes.

Edited, 12:16 AM 12/11 – Full disclosure – I worked at the DA for two years. I left in April.

Edited, 12:26 AM 12/11 – Sourced some data about student newspaper budgets after being challenged. Also fixed some typos and style.

What You Should Know About Gordon Gee, Part 1: The Legacy of WVU’s Interim

This is part one of a two part series on Gordon Gee. 

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

So as you probably know, WVU’s former president Jim Clements has left the University. Before a new president can be selected, WVU appointed a temporary interim president, none other than the bowtie-wearing superhero Gordon Gee. He’s making the rounds around campus Tuesday.

Gee, a former WVU president, has made a name for himself in university circles. Not only has he been the charismatic president of universities like Brown, Vanderbilt and Ohio State, but as we’ll soon discover, he’s been in the news recently – not necessarily for good things.

So what should we know about Gee?

1. While at Ohio State University, Gee was the highest paid CEO of any public university in the United States. Since returning in 2007, he’s made $8.6 million in salary and compensation. What’s worse are his expenses: he’s spent nearly $7.7 million on university-approved activities, from flying around the globe to wining and dining prospective faculty and donors. Records show Gee staying in high-end hotels, flying on private jets and throwing lavish parties, all on the public dime.

He’s spent tens of thousands on bow ties alone.  Since 2007, OSU has spent $64,000 on bow ties, bow tie cookies (the equivalent of our flying WV cookies, I’m told by reputable sources) and bow tie lapel pins to distribute. (I’m also told the majority of this budget was spent on the cookies and pins – no diamond-studded ties in there.*)

Student fees at OSU increased 13.6% over the five years when Gee was president, which makes these expenditures worse. I doubt he’ll have this kind of spending leisure at WVU.

2. Gee used to serve on the Board of Directors of Massey Energy, a coal empire with record-setting environmental violations. Gee was on the BoD for more than a decade until he finally retired under pressure from environmental groups and students at OSU. He was still on the board while president at OSU. He also served on a board committee responsible for overseeing Massey’s environmental impact and worker safety, which is where the problems start.

As reported by the eminent Ken Ward on Coal Tattoo, Gee has openly defended Massey’s environmental and safety practices. In 2009 he told a student newspaper just how he feels.

“I think if you take a look at Massey’s record, it has one of the best environmental records in the country.”

A bold statement, especially considering in 2008 Massey was forced to pay $20 million in penalties to the Environmental Protection Agency – the largest penalty in the EPA’s history for wastewater discharge violations. There’s too many problems to list, so check out the awesome blog Coal Tattoo for the full story. 

Gee’s history of selective environmental ignorance could pose a problem at WVU. Petroleum drilling is a big issue for West Virginia, and Morgantown has already faced legal battles over fracking. 

3. Gee’s great at making gaffes. Oh man, there’s a whole list.

January 2012: An appearance at a Columbus athletic club ends with a colorful metaphor. When answering a question about unifying different parts of the University:

“When we had these 18 colleges all kind of floating around, they were kind of like PT Boats. They were shooting each other,” Gee said. “It was kind of like the Polish army or something. I have no idea what it was.”

May 30, 2013. At a meeting with Athletic Councilors, Gee took a number of cheap shots at Catholics at Notre Dame, referring to Notre Dame officials as “damn Catholics.” This gaffe convinced Gee to retire from OSU.

“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” he said. “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.”

Gee is a Mormon, for the record. Some hilarity – had he not retired, Gee would have taken sensitivity training, potentially at a Buddhist temple!

May 31, 2013 (as in one day later). Gee shares some choice words about Brett Bielema, Wisconsin’s coach, with whom he’s had a history:

“Someone was saying to me, well, you know, Bret Bielema leaving … that was a blessing for Wisconsin and they knew it,” Gee said. “Because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn’t like him. Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff.”

Lesson learned: Gee has no filter. Hopefully his staff can keep him reined in.

So with all of these problems, why would we want somebody like Gee here at WVU, filling in during one of the most important times in our history? Check in Thursday to find out.

What do you think about Gee? Let us know in the comments or tweet at me.

*EDITED, 10:07 pm. 12/9: Friend , teacher and SPJ Ethics Chair Kevin Z. Smith gives some good insight to the “bowtie budget” fiasco. Thanks Kevin!

Homelessness in Morgantown: Everyone’s Problem

The issue of homelessness in Morgantown, W.Va. is not a secret. If you walk down High Street at anytime of the day or night, you’re likely to be asked if you could spare some change. This is a small piece of the issue that we see before our eyes, but there is much more to the story than this. You may be surprised to know how much the growing homeless population in Morgantown impacts your life.   homeless in morgantown

Photo courtesy of MountaineerNewsService.com

According to WDTV, the homeless population in Morgantown grew by 30 percent just last year. The cold weather and holidays may have some of us thinking of the less fortunate, but it’s not just the people you see on the streets that are in need of help.

Beyond the stereotype:

  • The primary cause of homelessness in Morgantown is lack of affordable housing.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in the community are not visible like the people we see on the streets.
  • The majority of homeless people in the community are working at least part time.
  • Families with children are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population in Morgantown.

According to the Morgantown Homelessness Task Force, “The immediate impact of homelessness is, of course, on those who find themselves without a place to live. However, this problem also affects the quality of life for all in our community. The costs of homelessness are not just borne by those who directly experience homelessness. Everyone pays at least some of the personal, health, social, economic and governmental costs of homelessness because of the demand upon, and cost of, police, health and other public services.”

As the temperature drops each day, you may be asking now more than ever, what is being done to address this growing issue?

  • In September, Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller announced more than $23 million in federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community development, affordable housing, and homelessness prevention and relief in West Virginia.
  • The Homelessness Task Force is a creation of the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission.  Its goal is to address homelessness and vagrancy in Morgantown and the surrounding metropolitan area.
  • The City of Morgantown Community Development Office administrates annual grant monies from the federal government with the goal of providing decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanded economic opportunities.
  • Multidisciplinary Unsheltered Homeless Relief Outreach: Morgantown (MUSHROOM) is a medical student outreach to homeless people in Morgantown. Every two weeks, medical students with faculty physicians make rounds on the streets to find the homeless to give medical care and food.
  • Homeless Shelters and clothing places such as Christian Help offer the less fortunate food, shelter and a temporary peace of mind.

The actions being taken and institutions being created are a start, but there is a large misconception among residents in town of what it truly means to be homeless in this area. The sooner we realize that the majority of homeless people are not the ones we see begging for money on High Street, the better. We need to realize that a majority of this population is made up of families and people who are working. If housing is so expensive that a working mother or father can’t afford to put a roof over their child’s head, that’s something that should concern us all.

Why Small Business Saturday is Stupid

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I know I might seem like the last person to rag on something like Small Business Saturday, but I have some issues. Last Saturday Morgantown businesses celebrated the “venerated” holiday, but there’s a number of practical and holistic reasons we should abolish the practice altogether. I appreciate the idea but not the execution.

1. The idea that we should only celebrate small businesses one day a year is ignorant. It puts small business in a realm of commemoration alongside things we should care about but habitually tune out – AIDs research and breast cancer awareness are painful examples. Unfortunately, lots of people are numb to these awareness months, barring huge programs like Relay for Life. Associating small business with charity is a bad way to think about our local economy.
What has “awareness” done for anybody? Being “aware” is a lot different than actually taking action. Thanks to Small Business Saturday, people can be “aware” that small businesses exist and shop there once a year.

2. It’s celebrated on the worst possible day of the year. Sure, I see what they tried to do. It’s logical to try and ride the wave of Black Friday shopping, but there’s still a problem here. We’re making small business an afterthought, a place we go after we binge-shop at major chains. People should be lining up outside of local businesses on Black Friday, not visiting the day after when they’re exhausted and presumably broke. Let’s make it Small Business Black Friday instead.

3. Small Business Saturday promotes the trivialization of small businesses. When American Express started the tradition of recognizing small businesses they had good intentions, but the fact we need this kind of day identifies our failure to recognize how important small business are. Small businesses are the cornerstone of our world. More than half of the working population (like 120 million people) work in small businesses. Small businesses have generated 65 percent of new jobs since ’95. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States.
Those stats are nothing to shake a stick at. Saying we need a “day of commemoration” makes small businesses sound like a small, marginalized part of the business world, which is far from true. If we want to fix our cultural perspective on small businesses we need more than just a day of celebration – we need entire years of recognition. We should all respect our local business owners for what they do and shop locally everyday – it’s the key for making our community vibrant and strong.

Europe’s had this figured out for ages. Their small businesses aren’t just vibrant – they’re sexy. As a result, chains have trouble catching on, and every community has a unique business environment. Let’s get on the bandwagon.

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Cafe de Flore, Paris. Photo by Damien Roue.

A Diverse Look at WVU: Susmita Patel

Traveling miles from home to go to college can be taxing on anyone, especially when it’s internationally. As I discussed in my last post, West Virginia University has many clubs and organizations based solely around diversity and students of different cultural backgrounds. One of those clubs is called the Indian Students Association, or as members like to call it, ISA. The association is very active and includes about 400 students, often having dinners as well as get-togethers.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 52 PM

“The goal of the association is to provide a congenial atmosphere for the student community from India.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to a former member of the ISA here at WVU, Susmita Patel, as she clued me in on happenings of the association. Aside from helping to put on different dance performances for Tarang, Diwali, diversity week, Indian Independence Day and other student organizations, Patel says there is much more to the association than performing dances.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 47 PM

Luckily she has never felt out of place or discriminated against in Morgantown, and even expressed that no one she knows has felt that way either. A culture shock upon first stepping foot into Morgantown seemed rather normal and exciting to her, though some international students might not be as excited. Although it may seem extremely diverse to a typical student, international students may feel like there is nobody to call “friend” or even “family.”

Student organizations like the ISA take control as soon as these students get off of the plane from India. They do so by picking them up from the airport and arranging a place to live, and even easing them into other school activities. These student associations create somewhat of a niche for all students to form their home away from home, giving them a sense of security and people to hang out with that they can trust.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 49 PM

Patel went on to tell me that every semester the ISA helps the new students from India to integrate into the social norms of the United States, especially if it’s their first time being here. It can be very scary, and can cause feelings of disorientation. To help with the transition, ISA holds an event called Freshers that acts as a type of icebreaker among the existing and new students.

“Freshers is very helpful, especially because they can find their place amongst potential friends, this way no one feels out of place or like that have to change themselves to fit in.”

The Freshers party is a huge way to combat feelings of not fitting in. The current students show the ins and outs, regarding social norms or even school work. Both parties, new students and old, benefit from each other during this process making integration much simpler.

American-born students still hold to the cultures and traditions of their ethnic backgrounds, though they may not completely understand the real cultural meaning behind some of the traditions, like language. This is Photo Nov 22, 12 56 40 PMwhere the international students can really help the more Americanized students in understanding their culture. On the other hand, the American students help the international students to lighten up and have a little fun, teaching them to become more outgoing and to open up socially.

Diversity clearly affects everyone in a positive way. Let’s hope we can show our loving spirit over the next few years and welcome even more international students to the Mountaineer family!

If you or someone you know would like to connect with ISA members, visit their Facebook page!

-All photos from Susmita Patel.

What Should We Build on High Street? (Anything Other Than a Starbucks)

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Photo by Daniel A Kersey / flickr

So after a solid fifty years of selling (overpriced?) menswear on High Street, Daniel’s Menswear has moved to their new location out on University Avenue.

The result: A large glass-front piece of real estate is open in prime location for student business. It’s right next to a great parking lot and some of downtown’s most vibrant businesses – which are so because of their location. Rumors say anything from a Starbucks to a dive bar could go in there, which has people talking. Who knows if the place has already been sold – maybe they took a buyout.

We know what people want to see…but what should we really build in there?

Here’s my top ideas.

1. A healthy grocery store. Downtown doesn’t have a powerful all-purpose grocery. Sure there’s Vonson and Mountain People’s Coop, but the nearest Kroger’s is in Evansdale. This is problematic for people who live downtown. Most rent apartments on High Street because they don’t have a car, but they need a car to get to the Kroger on Evansdale. We need something close that offers healthy, cheap food. Sure, there’s the Dollar Tree, but we need a more specialized location. The High Street location is perfect – Ample parking, ample space, and ample demand. Students would eat that up, but I suggest a grocery store with one caveat: it needs to be a locally-owned joint with locally-grown produce. Here’s looking at you, Trader Joe’s.

2. A local pharmacy. Word on the street is there’s a Walgreen’s going in, but that’s just another case of chains imposing on local business. I wish something local would move in, and it would pull a lot of student business as well – 30,000 students are bound to have a lot of prescriptions to fill. It would also be a great place for dorm-bound students to grab some cheap hygienic goods.

3. Anything other than a Starbucks. Like come on. I know everyone needs their coffee fix, but if you think downtown is lacking in coffee places, you’ve obviously never been downtown. A Starbucks would pull business from a lot of other unique (and cheaper) coffee places all over downtown, but we’ve already talked about this. The leading rumor is that Starbucks actually bought the location, but I can’t confirm it.

4. Not another bar. Morgantown already has enough, and new upstarts always have a hard time competing with the established locations. It seems like those bars on Walnut Street always seem to succumb to underage violations, drug busts, etc. I imagine a new bar in the old Daniel’s location would draw the ire of the others. We don’t need a new bar and downtown doesn’t want one – don’t build one.

What do you think we should build on High Street? Post in the comments or tweet at me.