Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Region 4 forming framework for opioid settlement distribution

There’s a push in Charleston to get some of the state’s nearly $1 billion in opioid settlement money flowing by Election Day. 

Region 4 wants to be ready. 

To that end, the Monongalia County Commission hosted a meeting of regional representatives Thursday morning at the Mon County Center. 

During the hour-long session, individuals representing 22 of the region’s 76 governmental bodies (counties and municipalities) created the process through which a regional governance board will be created. 

The regional clearinghouse is a requirement of the memorandum of understanding outlining the state’s opioid settlement disbursement process. It will serve as a pass-through, vetting funding applications within its footprint before they get to the West Virginia First Foundation, the state-level body ultimately responsible for allocating funds.

In relatively short order, the group determined the regional body will be made up of 26 people comprised of one representative selected by each county and one representative collectively selected by the municipalities within each county. 

For example, the Monongalia County Commission will select one representative and the municipalities of Morgantown, Westover, Star City, Granville and Blacksville will need to come together to select one representative. 

The group selected this setup over a 13-member body comprised of one representative for each county.

Parsons Police Chief Kevin Keplinger explained one representative per county would further disadvantage small towns already receiving little in direct allocations from the settlements. 

“A lot of times the county perspective is different than a municipal perspective. If you do this you run the very real risk of completely isolating your municipalities,” he said.  “We’re already facing the fact that we have a very small amount of money that came to our municipality. We functionally get nothing out of this first draw. It goes to the county. So, if we get no say in this, I’m concerned about that.”   

A second question was whether the regional body needed to be made up of elected officials.  

The answer was no. While members can be elected officials, it is up to the counties and municipalities to choose who they want.   

Marion County representative Lloyd White said winning elections doesn’t make one knowledgeable about opioids or addiction. 

“When you limit it to elected officials only, you’re limiting your pool of expertise to pick from,” White said. “I think we have one opportunity to do it. Let’s do it right.” 

The names of all appointees are due to the Monongalia County Commission by March 1. The initial appointments will serve a one-year term. 

While Thursday’s meeting was chaotic at times — about half the participants were taking part via online meeting software — Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said he walked away pleased.

As the first to begin setting up a regional structure, Bloom said the five other regions across the state are watching the process.   

“Considering there is absolutely no precedent, I’m very happy. I was honestly worried how it was going to go, especially with people joining online. I thought it went much better than I was expecting,” Bloom said. “I think we set up an atmosphere where everyone wants to work together. Whether you’re Tunnelton or Monongalia County, everyone got to speak and be part of the decision process.”      

Of the 13 counties in the region, seven were represented — Monongalia, Harrison, Braxton, Upshur, Lewis, Preston and Marion. The region also includes Taylor, Barbour, Tucker, Randolph, Gilmer and Doddridge counties.

Of the 63 municipalities in the region, 15 were represented — Star City, Granville, Weston, Clarksburg, Lumberport, Davis, Fairmont, Tunnelton, Grafton, Elkins, Bridgeport, Parsons, Masontown, Gassaway and Mannington. 

Despite being the largest city in the region, nobody representing the city of Morgantown participated in the meeting.  

Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin said the absence was not intentional.

“It’s my fault. It was a mix up,” she said. “It’s very important and we do intend to fully participate.”

Jonathan Board, who was narrowly selected to represent Region 4 on the West Virginia First Foundation in July before announcing a run for West Virginia Senate in August, also was not present.   

Bloom said Board planned to attend but was asked to testify as an expert witness before a legislative committee meeting Thursday morning.

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