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"We have new weapons the drug dealers paid for"

Updated: Feb 24

Last Monday night, it wasn't just exhaust fumes, dust, and the overwhelming noise from the heater, but emotions of varying sorts and degree that filled the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department. It was a rainy, damp night, but nothing could have extinguished the hot indignation, the passive aggression, the pompous condescension and one quivering lip.

We started off the night with the grand exhibition of the fire department removing the fire engines from the bays. One would venture that this could have been done in advance and saved us the whole spectacle, but the powers-that-be like to "flex" as the kids nowadays say or in other words, this whole charade was to show us peons that we wait on the whim and pleasure of those in charge.

Six town council members, including the Mayor and Town Recorder, were in attendance and Bramwell town residents welcomed two gentlemen from Mercer County on the Bluestone River Valley Trails Committee (that would be agenda item number ten for those paying attention). The goal of the committee is to provide public access to the Bluestone National Scenic River in Mercer County, particularly to those visitors using kayaks, john boats and canoes. The proposed easements would include the already-existing boat launch site called Cooper’s Landing in the Coopers district of Bramwell and another easement located just behind the Bramwell Town Hall and Volunteer Fire Department. Naturally, several residents had concerns regarding the prospective sites to include parking, maintenance, refuse collection, and the condition of the river itself, specifically its being clogged with trash and other debris, making the river in some areas impassable. On the topic of parking, the committee representatives were advised that the “parking lot” on Main Street was not owned by the town and in all actuality is private property, at which time, the Mayor deftly stepped in and advised that parking could be accomplished by using the land to the left of the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department. The committee members’ reactions gave the impression that the Mayor must have led the committee to believe that boaters and other recreationists could use the “parking lot'' at their discretion, which the more intelligent in the room all knew was not and is not the Mayor’s right to bestow. Another wise town resident brought up the prudence of installing a boat launch so close to the children’s playground located behind Town Hall. However, despite town inhibitions, the launch sites would be a great way to encourage more visitors to the area and who could reasonably argue with that? The motion was made, the Town Council voted, and Bramwell optimistically hopes in the next few months or so to welcome throngs of water-loving adventurers.

In honor of February being Black History Month, the Mayor mentioned Anne Bethel Spencer, an African American turn-of-the-century poet who spent part of her childhood in Bramwell, West Virginia. Anne Spencer went on to become a teacher and librarian and in 2008, The Anne Spencer Bridge located next to the Bramwell Train Depot was dedicated to her memory.

With no questions from fellow town council members regarding previous meeting minutes and town financials, the Mayor moved to my very favorite part of the meeting, the fire and police department reports. “Not mentioning any names”, the town Police Chief regaled an enthralled audience with tales of “people running their mouths”, people “being disruptive, not being constructive, not being positive towards our community”, and simply being just plain “rude”. More explicitly (insert gasping emoji here), allowing your dog to poop in other people's yards, because that is just “ugly”. As an aside, I just want to say to the person who took the time to record another town resident’s dog pooping while being taken for a walk, you, my friend, must accept my extreme gratitude for helping me find another hobby when I am bereft of all other life’s enjoyments. This little nugget was by far the most entertaining of all of my recent quiet morning musings. One simply has not lived or fulfilled their life’s purpose until they have mastered the subtle art of filming someone else’s dog defecating on another’s property, but that is beside the point.

The Chief continued with his “report” to cite a town ordinance regarding pet waste pickup, but we all question this ordinance’s validity as it is unsurprisingly unsigned, which appears to be the general modus operandi. The Police Chief accused others of being “rude”, “ugly”, and “mean”(cue quivering lip), but I distinctly remember that a town resident said “hello” to the Police Chief not once, not twice, but three times prior to the Town Council meeting, in which case, Mr. Chief refused to respond altogether or even acknowledge said resident. Pot, meet kettle. Barring filing a complaint sir, this is me Chief, saying “Thank you, you know, for letting me know things”, no secret meeting or enigmatic Facebook post necessary.

One town resident, incensed at the absurdity of such a report, such as it was, lacking any material substance related to the Chief’s actual commission, attempted to address the Chief’s comments. This protester was promptly shut down by an apoplectic council member with a most-decided air of haughtiness unbecoming to the public office. Needless to say, the Chief was allowed to continue in this unprofessional and outrageous tirade for some time. I believe the only other item of note, other than that which serves as high entertainment value for late night giggles (you only need read the title of this very post for further reference), was the mention that there is soon to be wheelchair access to the Main Street sidewalks. This is somewhat laughable as our sidewalks have been in desperate need of attention for a while now and access or no, there is no wheelchair in production today that can navigate those cracked and overgrown promenades.

Next on the agenda was the bids for replacing four of the heaters in Town Hall, a $3,000 contract voted in by the Town Council that will go to Spangler Electric of Bramwell. Following that, the Mayor presented the estimate for the rewiring of Town Hall, but suspiciously, no amount was ever actually mentioned. Five out of the town council members present voted to accept the second electrical bid, but the Town Recorder elected to abstain, citing what everyone with a moral bone in their body would also question. If both electrical bids would have been combined (as would be in most cases, seeing as they are to be done at the same time, by the same contractor, at the same premises), they would have been over the $25,000 threshold that requires municipalities to obtain several bids for construction projects. However, Ms. Recorder's concerns were abjectly ignored. Without much ado, the Town Council voted to move forward with the $40,000 bid to paint the Town Hall from Frank Unger. Updating electrical, painting the Town Hall, adding wheelchair access to Main Street… is this the current administration's one last frenzied rally to accomplish something, anything, whilst still in power? It's amazing what a few months of effort can do, can you imagine what 15 years could have done?

I am going to attempt to curtail the rest of the meeting and spare you the more mundane details. The Town Council completed a Region 1 Survey that concluded the Bramwell Town Council's concerns are the following and respectively in this order: Community Facilities & Service, Environmental & Natural Resources, Economic Development, Energy, Human Resources, and Housing. Government, although it was offered as an entry to be considered, was completely left off the ranked list by the Town Council. I think we can all agree on one matter first and foremost, the government in Bramwell, West Virginia is of paramount importance and all other matters cannot progress in a positive and forward manner until the local government and its shortcomings are addressed.

The Mayor then announced two projects to be completed by the West Virginia Division of Highways. One project is still in the works and includes efforts to reduce the flooding of Durhing Street in front of the Thomas House (with no future plans currently to address the flooding on Duhring Avenue near the Freeman House). The second project was alluded to earlier regarding the handicap-accessibility on Main Street. Locations for these future wheelchair ramps would include one located in front of the Cooper Mansion front gate, one on each end of the Phoebe Goodwill Bridge and one in front of the Hewitt House. As you may have noticed, this project began on Monday February 20th around 10:30AM.

Next on the agenda was the audit report which included an estimate of $12,500 from Ferrari & Associates, PLLC of Morgantown, West Virginia to complete the Town annual audits for years 2017-2022 for a total of five years of audits. Payment for this is to be made in six monthly installments. The Town Recorder asked the poignant question, “Do most places simply have an audit done every year so that” “they just pay $2,500 every year” with the Mayor responding, “That’s what we’re hoping for, to finally get to that point here”. Finally! It only took fifteen years and a $10,000 overburden on this year's budget to bring the Town’s financial audits up-to-date. A member of the congregation spoke up about addressing the previous audits’ discrepancies which included “Failure to Submit Budget Revision to Appropriate the Unexpended Balance” from the General Fund, a concern about “Segregation of Duties” or more specifically the fact that there is no clear allocation of duties to include “approving, executing, and recording transactions”, and the custody of Town assets as resulting from Town transactions. In other words, who is responsible for the recording and handling of the Town’s money? The last irregularity on the 2015 audit is the “Maintenance of Accounting Records” when it comes to the financial records for the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department. All of these concerns were addressed again in the Bramwell 2016 Audit Report with one additional inconsistency being “Expenditures in Excess of Amounts Allocated in the Levy Estimated” more precisely mentioning the Coal Severance Tax Fund. Is anyone else as perturbed as I am?

The Town Council then moved onto the Thrasher survey regarding the Dam(s) located at the Bramwell Reservoir and/or Bramwell Lake which included an invoice for $9,700. There were two questions regarding this agenda item, one being that the Dam still does not have a classification and two, where is the contract from Thrasher (which is a civil and environmental engineering firm) to complete necessary repair work on the Dam(s). The Town Council voted with five out of the six council members agreeing to move forward with payment for the Thrasher invoice. The Town Recorder opposed.

Agenda item eleven included voting for the Bramwell Town municipal elections to take place on Tuesday June 13th, 2023. Agenda item twelve touched on a town cleanup campaign, noting town residents Betty Goins and nearby resident Becky Allen’s concerted efforts at litter removal. Agenda item thirteen encompassed the $83 Million settlement Walgreens agreed to pay to West Virginia for their alleged part in promoting the opioid cataclysm in the area. More to the point, agenda item thirteen was to discuss Bramwell’s decision to be included in the class action lawsuit.

Agenda item fourteen was brought forth to gauge Town sentiment towards the acquisition of the Bryant Cemetery located between Pocahontas, Virginia and Bramwell, West Virginia. This cemetery has a trust in place for lawn maintenance, but the current trust holder has been unsuccessful at obtaining additional grant money for increased conservation costs. Arguments were made that a few of Bramwell’s past residents have found their final resting place in this cemetery, including Dr. William A. Holley, but rising concerns about maintenance costs and Bramwell’s current stewardship of a couple of other area cemeteries has tabled the topic for now.

I want to apologize, friends, for the delay in getting this post written. In my vigorous attempt to be as accurate as possible and my unsuccessful endeavor to catch my elusive neighbor’s dog on film, I have been otherwise engaged in this crazy thing we call life. I sincerely hope to meet with you all again and anxiously await the next Bramwell Town Council Meeting Monday March 13th, 2023 at 7PM located inside the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department. For now, I say goodbye.

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