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Former DOH engineers submit lowest bid

CHARLESTON — Two former West Virginia Division of Highways district engineers who formed a company earlier this year are the apparent low bidder for a consulting contract to help the DOH with "coordination and oversight of the governor's secondary road maintenance initiative."

TB&RR, a Parkersburg-based limited liability company formed May 23, was the lowest of four bidders for the 150-day consulting contract, at $199,050.

According to information on file at the Secretary of State's Office, officers of the firm are James "Rusty" Roten, former DOH engineer/manager for District 3, based in Parkersburg, and Thomas Badgett, former acting DOH engineer/manager for District 6 in Moundsville. An office location or contact information for the new company could not be located Friday.

Other bidders were: Enco LLC of Pembroke, Florida, at $249,750; Ascent Consulting and Engineering of Clarksburg, $264,600; and S&ME Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina, $600,000.

The bids will have to be reviewed by DOH officials before the contract is awarded.

Bid opening for the request for quotes for the consulting services contract had been pushed back one day, to Friday.

Specifications required the winning firm to have a minimum of two employees with at least 15 years' experience and "extensive knowledge of the Highways department management structure and operations; Highways personnel needs; budgeting and project management;

governmental and legislative affairs; knowledge of equipment used for highways maintenance activities; and private sector contractors for highways maintenance."

It indicates that the winning bidder will be expected to travel extensively statewide to coordinate with both district and county DOH offices regarding "roadway maintenance, status of road projects and related equipment needs," and will also travel extensively to meet with private contractors and industry representatives.

Winning bidders will also be expected to consult with state Transportation Secretary Byrd White and DOH Commissioner Jimmy Wriston regarding "activities, complaints, issues and observations regarding roadways," and to serve as the agency's liaison with the Legislature and the governor's office.

In March, responding to widespread criticism statewide about the poor condition of state secondary roads, Gov. Jim Justice announced an initiative placing a new emphasis on repairing and maintaining crumbling secondary roads, stating, "I want stuff done. That's all there is to it. The bottom line is, we're not getting the maintenance done."

Prior to the announcement, Justice fired then-Transportation Secretary Tom Smith, a 37-year veteran of the Federal Highways Administration, replacing him with White, a longtime friend and business associate with limited background in road building or maintenance.

Blenko honors feline 'employees' with Caterdays

MILTON — In a back warehouse of Blenko Glass Co. in Milton, sometimes a squeak can be heard from the shelves holding the colorful glass jugs and lamps to be packaged and sent to customers.

Dennis Elliot, when he hears that squeak, calls out to his work partner Kit, one of the handful of cats that make their home at the glass factory, earning their keep by keeping the place clear of rodents.

"When she's whining, I have to go back and get her because I can hear her hollering," Elliot said.

In honor of their feline employees, Blenko is celebrating Caterdays, which began on International Cat Day Aug. 8 and wraps up Wednesday, Aug. 21. The two-week event features specialty cat-themed water jugs made just for Caterdays, along with specials on cat glass, cat nightlights and other catthemed items.

Dean Six, vice president and general manager for Blenko, said officials and employees were thinking about ideas to generate some interest as the company enters its slower part of the year.

"We've made a few cat-themed pieces before and they have been well received. Cat people are a pretty loyal bunch," said Six, a cat owner himself.

The cat water jugs will only be made for the event, which the company plans to repeat next year. The lips of the jug are turned up like pointed cat ears and a tail elegantly forms a handle.

Six said the cat pieces are special, both because some are made just for the celebration but also because each glass blower makes a different piece.

"Most have been developed over the years by someone teaching them," Six said. "They aren't pieces in our catalog, so you have to come here to get them. One person makes the paperweights — I think that's a Brittany thing. Justin makes the little solid ones. Jenny designed the cat suncatchers. Everyone had their hands on different cat pieces."

As they make those pieces, it's possible a real cat is nearby. Blenko currently has five resident cats, with one or two feral cats that slip in for a bite of food and a drink of water from the Blenko glass bowls that are found throughout the factory.

"One of our cats had been here for 18 years," Six said. "He was blind and deaf. The employees would take pieces off their sandwiches to give to him. They gave him a fluffy place to lay. Because he couldn't get around much, they would bring him pieces of bacon. Being an old cat at Blenko isn't so bad."

Six says the animals are great for staff morale and Elliot, who has worked at the company for four years, said he agrees.

"It's a lot less stressful," Elliot said. "It's just like science says. It really helps. I don't care what anyone says."

Six said each of the cats has seemed to attach itself to specific workers. Elliot thinks Kit chose him because he gives her the most attention, complete with a bag of treats that stays in his work station.

"She could be pet all day," he said. "She loves attention."

Along with cat weeks, Blenko has a new coloring book featuring their cats, starring Kit. Featured wearing the proper gear to enter the glassblowing warehouse, Kit leads readers on an adventure to explain how glass is made.

A new mural is also in the works that will have two black cats sitting on top of the letters spelling Blenko.

Six said he's often asked why they don't do similar events for dogs, but dog lovers are a bit harder to please because they are more breed specific.

Blenko is located at 9 Bill Blenko Drive in Milton. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Authorities searching for Logan County man wanted in NYC

LOGAN, W.Va. — The Logan County Sheriff's Department is asking for help in locating a man from Bruno, West Virginia, who is wanted for questioning regarding an incident that caused an evacuation of a major New York City subway station and closed off an intersection in another part of town Friday.

Three abandoned devices in the subway station that looked like pressure cookers led to the concern. Police were looking to talk to a man seen on surveillance video taking two of the objects — which police identified as rice cookers — out of a shopping cart and placing them in a subway station in lower Manhattan. In photos released by authorities, the young man is seen standing by an elevator and then lugging a cooker in.

But police stressed that so far, it wasn't clear whether he was trying to frighten people or merely throwing the objects away.

The man was later identified as Larry Kenton Griffin II, who is from the Bruno area of Logan County, located four miles south of Man. An FBI Joint Task Force in New York contacted the Logan County Sheriff's Department concerning Griffin at about 1 p.m. Friday.

After speaking to a member of the FBI Task Force, members of the sheriff's department assisted by speaking with family members of Griffin in hopes of obtaining a possible location for the man. No location could be determined.

Griffin has a criminal history and has been arrested by the LCSD at least three times within the past eight years on charges ranging from possession of a controlled substance involving weapons to use of obscene material to seduce a minor.

Griffin was indicted in 2017 on charges of using obscene matter with intent to seduce a minor and distribution and display to a minor of obscene matter. There is currently an active warrant for Griffin's arrest issued because of the man's failure to report and for missing drug screens as part of his pretrial bond supervision.

The LCSD is continuing to assist New York authorities in the matter. Anyone in the Logan area who may have information regarding Griffin's whereabouts is asked to contact the LCSD at 304-792-8590 or contact Logan County 911 for assistance.

WV school boss Paine apologizes for comment

CHARLESTON — The head of West Virginia's school system says he didn't mean to downplay the seriousness of the rising number of homeless students in the state at an education board meeting earlier this week.

Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine issued a statement Friday saying he "in no way intended to convey that the data was not significant."

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Thursday reported Paine said it's "not a significant increase" that the number of homeless students has risen 17% in the last two years to 10,522.

The newspaper first reported the figure last month after it wasn't included in the state's 2018 annual education report.

"My comments have been taken out of context and I apologize," Paine said in the statement Friday.

Paine also called the number of homeless students "unacceptable" and pointed to problems such as poverty rates among students and the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Homeless students are classified as those who don't have a regular and adequate nighttime residence. Students who stay with family or friends are counted as homeless and make up 87% of the total figure, according to the Gazette-Mail.

The paper reported that Paine attempted to make light of the state's definition of homelessness, telling board members that they "joke" that an education department staffer's children are homeless because she lives with her parents.

"That was supposed to be humorous," he said afterward, according to the Gazette-Mail.

"My comments have been taken out of context and I apologize"

Steve Paine

Superintendent of Schools