Ex-CEO and ex-prisoner Blankenship making presidential bid

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Former coal executive and ex-federal prisoner Don Blankenship says he’ll seek the Constitution Party’s presidential nomination next year.
West Virginia Constitution Party chairman Jeffrey-Frank Jarrell says Blankenship made the announcement Saturday during the party’s national committee meeting in Pittsburgh.
Blankenship finished third in the 2018 Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat held by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Blankenship’s general election bid to run as the Constitution Party’s nominee was then blocked. The secretary of state cited the state’s “sore loser” law prohibiting major-party primary candidates who lose from switching to a minor party.
Blankenship is the ex-CEO of Massey Energy, which owned a West Virginia mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 workers. He spent a year in federal prison for misdemeanor safety violations related to the explosion.

Museum celebrates 5 years of teaching West Virginia children

By BREANNA FRANCIS, The Journal undefined
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Just off East Martin Street in downtown Martinsburg and interwoven with Caperton train station, there are small, multicolored stickers littering the floors that encourage the Mountain State’s youth to follow these pathways and portals to different eras in the Eastern Panhandle’s railway history.
The For the Kids, by George Children’s Museum celebrates its fifth anniversary at the beginning of November and, according to Director Robbie Babbitt, only plans to expand its exhibits and community presence in an effort to educate and engage more of Berkeley and Jefferson counties’ youth.
“The way we look at it is we are teaching children about the culture of this area, the history too,” Babbitt said. “That is giving them pride of place, a sense of attachment and giving them the background they need to be future leaders in this area. These are children who are going to grow up understanding the importance of where they live.
“With the drain of people leaving West Virginia anything we can do to grow that attachment at an early age will help to make the future leaders want to stay here so we see it as civic building. We are building citizens here and people who have allegiance and a sense of attachment to the Eastern Panhandle.”
According to Babbitt, the museum, consisting of three main exhibits, teaches children about the ins and outs of railway travel in the area.
Children can get views of passing trains from the red pathway which leads to the highest point in the museum, the Pedestrian Bridge, where children magnets to load and unload passenger railcars are along the walls.
The yellow path leads kids back in time in the immersion galleries, known as the “Tunnels Through Time,” as Babbitt said they are given the opportunity to learn history in a hands-on way in a 1600’s Native American village, a furnished log cabin of the 1700’s and a 1800’s general store. This area also includes a Pedal-a-Watt gallery theatre, where children take a virtual 3D bike tour of the Washington Heritage Trail.
The last exhibit, known as The Grand Idea exhibit, takes kids into the oldest part of the building, the Old Berkeley Hotel and the original train station waiting area, sponsored by the North American Railway Foundation, where children get to have the hands-on experience of punching tickets and seeing a train station ticket office.
Babbitt said while the children and their families heavily enjoy these exhibits, these first five years have come with their own challenges and lessons.
“Our biggest challenge has been promotion, advertising and getting the word out into the community,” Babbitt said. “We still have people who come to this museum, have lived in Martinsburg for years and have never heard of it. It’s the best kept secret in the world, and it’s terrible it’s a secret because everyone that comes here likes it.”
Babbitt said in an effort to learn from these mistakes, he has made an effort to become more involved with the community and utilize the museum’s social media.
Babbitt said the museum does have consistent support from individuals and businesses in the area, and their recent escape room fundraising endeavor has been a “great, successful” project that has only broaden that support.
“The first escape room we did was overwhelmingly successful. We learned a lot from that one so we are working out those kinks, but we are excited to host our Halloween-themed escape room on (Friday),” (Oct. 18) Babbitt said. …
In addition to the upcoming escape room and in celebration of reaching its five-year anniversary, the For the Kids, by George Children’s Museum will be hosting a dinner at the Historic McFarland House on Friday, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m.
According to Babbitt, this dinner is the museum’s largest fundraiser of the year and greatly benefits the museum’s efforts in educating local youth.
“This is our major fundraising event every year,” Babbitt said. “In the past we’ve always done historical themes but this year we are just celebrating the fact that we have made it five years. We’re the little museum that could and we want to celebrate our efforts with an elegant dinner while we look ahead to our even brighter future. We’re really going to try to show the fun of the museum, what the kids get to get into when they’re here, to our guests that night.”
The dinner will feature a menu by French-trained Chef William Walden, who has worked at L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls as well as restaurants in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and Boca Raton and has cooked for a number of celebrities and presidential inaugural dinners. …
For more information on the museum, the escape room as well as the upcoming dinner, visit forthekidsbygeorge.org.
___
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/

4 more public forums set in WVa on substance abuse response

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Four more public forums are set this week on a statewide response to substance abuse in West Virginia.
The meetings are scheduled for Monday at the University of Charleston student union ballroom, Tuesday at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office training center in Martinsburg, Wednesday at Wheeling University’s Swint Hall and Thursday at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont.
Public comments can be submitted at the forums, which are being conducted by the state Office of Drug Control Policy and the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment.
Forums were held last week at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center and the West Virginia University-Parkersburg campus.
West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation.

Police: 2 beat kids, forced them into hourslong punishments

MANNINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Police say a West Virginia couple hit their six children with belts and metal objects and forced them to do push-ups and squats as punishment.
News outlets report Mannington police on Sunday arrested Bashtlee Efaw and her husband, Richard Douglas Efaw.
Police Chief Brian Stewart says sometimes the punishment would last from the time the children arrived home from school until they went to bed. He says the children complained of knee pain after being forced to do as many as 500 squats.
The children, who range in age from 5 to 15, were placed under the care of Child Protective Services.
The Efaws each are charged with child abuse resulting in great injury. They remained jailed Monday. Jail records didn’t indicate whether they have an attorney.

Bond denied for West Virginia man accused of killing wife

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A judge has denied bond for a West Virginia man charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife.
News outlets report bond was denied Monday for 40-year-old James Michael Kiser, who authorities say has confessed to killing Crystal Dawn Kiser. Kanawha County deputies say James Kiser last month led them to Crystal Kiser’s body, which was buried in a shallow Kentuck grave.
Prosecutor Don Morris says Crystal Kiser wanted a divorce and was staying with her grandmother. He says surveillance video shows James Kiser repeatedly driving past the home on the day of the August slaying.
For years, Crystal Kiser filed domestic violence petitions against James Kiser. A 1998 domestic violence conviction barred him from owning a gun, but authorities say he later lied when buying one.

Chicago teachers may test unions’ ‘social justice’ strategy

By KATHLEEN FOODY Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — A threatened strike by Chicago teachers would test a strategy employed by a growing number of urban teachers unions convinced that transforming contentious contract talks into discussions about class sizes and student services wins public support and can be a difference maker at the bargaining table.
Unions in left-leaning cities including Los Angeles, have made a renewed push to use the strategy this year, emboldened by strengthened public support for teachers and their unions amid 2018 walkouts and protests in conservative states. Chicago’s last major teachers strike in 2012 also has been cited as early inspiration by other unions.
Now, Chicago teachers are returning to that strategy, aiming to get enforceable school district commitments on smaller class sizes and hiring more support staff. Without those and other commitments, they could begin a strike Thursday that would affect nearly 400,000 students.
If Chicago does strike, teachers around the country will be closely watching parents’ response to a walkout based on the unions’ “social justice” agenda beyond state school funding or teachers’ pay, experts said.
“Right now, you’re hard pressed to find a teacher’s union that says we only want to bargain for the economic interest of our members,” said Robert Bruno, a University of Illinois labor professor who has studied and written about the 2012 Chicago strike. “And that’s why it’s so hard to get a settlement.”
City officials, though, argue contract talks are meant for employee wages and benefits, not questions of staffing or affordable housing.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also has said the district’s offer of a 16% raise over five years for teachers is fair and ensures the district can continue to improve its once dire financial state. The district also has committed to hiring more nurses, social workers and support staff over the next five years but opposes teachers’ demand that be written into their contract.
After a change in union leadership in 2010, the Chicago teachers union partnered with other community groups working on poverty and crime. Teachers walked out for seven days in 2012, filling Chicago streets and using the bargaining process to force conversations on how those broader issues affected their students.
The Chicago union wasn’t the first to use that strategy. But its leadership, including then-President Karen Lewis, acted when teachers nationwide felt unions’ political power and clout had been severely weakened, said John Rogers, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Chicago was a dramatic moment, when this set of ideas coalesced and was enacted and then caught the attention of other unions,” Rogers said.
In the years since the 2012 Chicago strike, teachers clad in red have flooded state Capitols in right-to-work states including West Virginia to protest years of cutbacks in school funding.
The response to those protests reassured teachers of the public’s support, said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
“It is about much more than pay,” Lee said. “It’s about ensuring that every student, not just a select few, has a great public education.”
This year, unions in liberal-leaning cities including Denver, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, used contract talks to highlight class sizes and push back on charter schools.
The approach resulted in some victories: Los Angeles teachers got more money toward reducing class sizes and support staff hires; Denver teachers won changes to the district’s pay scale; and Oakland’s teachers got reduced class sizes.
Those changes still affect a school district’s bottom line, and education funding in most states was never fully restored after the Great Recession, said Kency Nittler, director of teacher policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality.
“Advocating for and winning smaller class sizes means adding teachers, adding additional staff,” Nettler said. “So it does feed back into this question of overall compensation from a district or administrator’s perspective.”
Staffing costs, including salary, health care and other benefits, remain districts’ largest expense, said Thomas Bertrand, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.
“When you begin to bargain issues like personnel or class levels, from a management side, you’re now more hamstrung in managing up to 80% of your budget,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance.”
Chicago Public Schools’ finances have improved in recent years with help from higher property taxes and changes to Illinois’ formula for funding schools.
A Civic Federation review of the district’s 2020 budget, though, warned that position remains fragile — particularly as the district deals with an underfunded teacher pension fund and declining enrollment.
Some experts wonder whether emboldened teachers can push parents too far, testing support amid walkouts that scramble thousands of families’ routines. Union leaders, though, argue that’s unlikely since class sizes and school staffing directly affect students — and parents.
Chirag Mehta, whose daughter and son attend a magnet school on the city’s north side, volunteers with a group called Parents 4 Teachers that has been urging parents to contact Lightfoot’s office every week in support of the teachers union. Mehta, a 48-year-old who works for a national nonprofit, said if Chicago teachers do strike, his kids will come along to the picket lines.
“Our school can’t operate in a vacuum,” he said. “We are all in this together and we need to have a mayor, a school system, a school board that sees it the same way.”
Tanesha Peeples, a community advocate in Chicago, said she’s skeptical about public support for a strike this year, particularly among minority community members who worry about their kids’ safety during a walkout.
“This can’t be the go-to every time (the Chicago Teachers Union) feels they don’t get what they want,” Peeples said. “Almost every year, there’s a strike threat and it throws the community into a frenzy.”

West Virginia tourism officials began fall foliage updates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s fall colors are starting to show, and the state Tourism Office has started providing weekly updates and a live tracker map online.
The agency says foliage in the state’s higher elevations is about a week away from peak, with maples showing the most color. Scattered color is appearing in the Eastern Panhandle, Allegheny Mountains and New River Gorge. Fall colors are expected to move throughout West Virginia during the next six weeks.
Tourism officials say people spotting colorful scenery are posting photos on social media from around the state using the hashtag “AlmostHeaven,” and the photos are added to the Tourism Office’s map online .
The agency’s weekly foliage reports are prepared in partnership with the state Division of Forestry.

Court upholds firing of parole officer who dated drug dealer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Supreme Court has upheld the firing of a parole officer who dated a man who ran a drug distribution operation out of their home.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the justices ruled 4-1 Friday to keep Simona Southall out of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. They upheld a ruling that reversed the state Public Employees Grievance Board’s restoration of Southall’s employment, which ended in 2017 after the FBI raided the couple’s Kimberly home.
Court records say FBI agents seized a “bale” of marijuana, along with $182,000 and other items indicative of a drug operation. The grievance board argued that Parole Services failed to show Southall knew about, should’ve known about or participated in illegal activities with Jonathan Brockman, who’s serving nine years in prison on drug charges.
___
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

New I Scream Sundae shop offers spooky treats year-round

By BILL LYNCH Charleston Gazette-Mail
RIPLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Halloween only comes around once a year, but at I Scream Sundae in Ripley, the spooky fun never ends.
The ice cream shop is just off West Main Street, where afternoon traffic rolls by relentlessly. Outside the modest brick-and-glass building, an inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters” and giant sandworm from “Beetlejuice” loiter in the parking lot — too friendly looking to be menacing.
Inside, lights hang from the ice cream shop’s ceiling and movie posters decorate the walls. A headless horseman mannequin stands guard next to a vintage “Double Dragon” video game while campy, cult movies play on a television — groan-worthy films like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and “Killer Klowns from Outer Space.”
The sound is turned down to prevent anyone from being tempted into trying to follow the plot.
Rock music plays on the speakers while customers trickle in steadily.
Charessa Wilkinson and her husband, David Westfall, opened I Scream Sundae July 1. A lifelong scary movie fan and Halloween aficionado, Westfall said Wilkinson used to turn her house into a haunted house for the local kids.
“I told her I could build whatever she wanted,” he said.
Last year, he helped her up-size her homemade haunted house into a full-blown Halloween attraction with the “Go Go Scare Show” on Academy Drive in Ripley.
They did very well, Wilkinson said. “I had 50 young adults and teenagers show up to work it.”
The realtor and Halloween fan enjoyed the experience so much, she wanted to build on it and help some of her young friends find jobs.
She had a lot of extra space inside the building where she and her business partner, Amber Thaxton Mouser, run their real estate office, Sold Sisters Realty.
“People love ice cream and I love to create,” Wilkinson said.
So, in the spring, she and her husband began working on blending her love of horror, science fiction and pop culture with an old-school ice cream shop.
When I Scream Sundae opened, people were hungry for it.
“We had a line out the door on day one,” Wilkinson said.
And they keep coming back.
The name of the store sounds like a play on the old slogan, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” but Wilkinson said that’s only a coincidence.
“I’m a P.K. — a preacher’s kid,” she said. “The name comes from a Christian punk band I used to listen to back in the 1980s.”
I Scream Sundae serves regular sundaes and cones with scare-inspired names like “Carnival Carnage” (cotton candy) or “Swamp Thing” (chocolate mint). But the shop is building its reputation with Charessa’s creations — elaborately designed, hand-dipped milkshakes named after science fiction and horror films and television shows, like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” ”Night of the Living Dead” and “Mars Attacks!”
They’re decorated with candy, cake icing and popcorn, and they occasionally use dry ice. The “Stranger Things” shake is garnished with an Eggo waffle, a favorite of the character Eleven.
On a wall in the shop, they display pictures of the different creations. Every week or so, Wilkinson comes up with a new creation and the menu expands.
The latest addition is “Children of the Corn,” a caramel-flavored shake made with coconut pecan icing, a popcorn ball, candy corn, caramel drizzle and garnished with popcorn.
Wilkinson said one of her regulars suggested the name of the movie would be a good creation.
“This is what I came up with,” she said.
The ice creams and milkshake stylist said there’s a lot of trial and error and some taste testing, but between the ice cream shop, her real estate business and preparing for haunted house season, Wilkinson stays busy.
“I opened an ice cream shop and lost 10 pounds,” she laughed.
Wilkinson said her teenage employees run the place for her, though her real estate office is connected to the shop and separated by a glass wall.
Visitors come from all over the area and beyond. A couple from Maryland brought their granddaughter to the shop, Westfall said, and it’s not unusual for customers to drive two or three hours to order a milkshake.
“For a while, everybody seemed to be coming from Meigs County, Ohio,” Wilkinson said. “We thought about putting up a sign saying we were the biggest attraction in Meigs County, without actually being in Meigs County.”
Meigs County borders Jackson County.
Wilkinson said they’re doing well, though acknowledged there isn’t much of a profit margin in her kind of business.
“I don’t know how other people make it work,” she said. “I’m doing OK, but I own the building. That’s a huge expense I don’t have to worry about.”
To broaden their customer base, Wilkinson said she planned to offer panini sandwiches and soups during weekdays for the lunch crowd, though I Scream Sundae will still be an ice cream shop.
While acknowledging her business had a definite Halloween feel to it, Wilkinson said she wasn’t worried about being pigeonholed as only a seasonal attraction. There were plenty of science fiction and horror fans out there, plenty of ice cream fans looking for something with a little pizazz and Wilkinson believed the spooky season can go year-round.
“After Halloween, I’m going to launch my ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ and Grinch-themed creations,” she said.
I Scream Sundae is at 516 W. Main St. in Ripley. They’re open noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. … Contact I Scream Sunday at 304-532-4230.
___
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

W Virginia school suspends sorority over drug, hazing claims

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A college in West Virginia has suspended a sorority over allegations of illegal drug use and hazing.
Marshall University on Thursday announced a cease-and-desist order against the Delta Upsilon chapter of Delta Zeta, suspending all chapter actives, meetings and social events.
University President Jerome Gilbert says the university is now investigating the allegations. No further details about the allegations were immediately provided.
The chapter’s national organization has been notified and asked to take part in the college’s investigation.