State Journal: Talk-show crusade; Tropical trepidation

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What began as a talk-show conversation in West Virginia has evolved into a state supreme court case pitting a construction worker and a mother of three against a state agency.

Early in June, a Charleston talk-radio host and sometime lawyer named Jim Lees got several calls from a frequent participant and gadfly known to listeners as William "Coal River Sam'' Winkler of St. Albans.

Mr. Winkler, a well-versed construction worker, launched into a dissertation on the growing debt amassed by the School Building Authority, which has sold more than $300 million in bonds to raise funds for school renovation and construction since in 1989.

The S.B.A. violated a state constitutional provision barring the government from acquiring long-term debt without voter approval, Coal River Sam contended.

"I originally promised him I'd look into the matter to get him off my back,'' Mr. Lees said.

After discovering that the S.B.A.'s bond sales would take voters 30 years to pay off, though, Mr. Lees filed a pro bono suit on behalf of Mr. Winkler and another caller, Diane Hickel of Mason County, to halt a $328 million bond sale the agency was planning.

In June, a county circuit court judge agreed with the charge and stopped the bond sale.

The S.B.A. appealed to the supreme court, which rejected the appeal last month.

Throughout the proceedings, Mr. Lees said, he developed a great deal of respect for Mr. Winkler's legal knowledge.

"How he got this hobby, I don't know,'' Mr. Lees added.

Perhaps surprisingly, Coal River Sam could not be reached by telephone for comment.

Posters and trinkets promoting the charms of Hawaii were hot items at the annual conference of the Education Commission of the States in Pittsburgh last month. But while the tropics beckoned, many state officials said going to Honolulu may turn out to be a political hot potato.

Given that 1994 will be an election year in most states and fiscal belt-tightening is still in fashion, the audience seemed less sure than the organizers that next year's meeting will be more of a draw than a drawback.

Beyond promising attractive airline and hotel discounts, E.C.S. leaders also turned their podium over to Robert Fishburn, the communications director for Gov. John Waihee 3rd, who said the trip should be easy to justify.

He reminded the audience that the Waikiki beach is known for much more than its surf, beaches, and luxury hotels. "A lot of associations have meaningful and serious meetings there,'' he said.--S.K.G. & L.H.

Vol. 12, Issue 40

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