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Media Truth

Charges of Nepotism at Bristol Virginia Utilities

by Lewis Loflin

The Bristol City government and the Bristol Herald Courier have little love for each other. In 2008 (as of February) They have published the salaries of public employees and exposed what seems a pattern of nepotism at the City owned utility.

In Bristol Virginia, government jobs pay far more above private sector jobs, here limited mainly to restaurants, retail, and low-wage manufacturing jobs through temp services. Bristol Virginia Utilities pays the highest salaries in Bristol Virginia City government. So when the relatives of current and past City Council members ended up with jobs, the local press cried foul.

Mayor Jim Rector isn't denying his pleasure that his son got a job at Bristol Virginia Utilities April 2006 when he was then chairman of the board. His son Jamey Rector isn't alone at BVU: Freddy Bowman, son of City Councilman Fred T. Bowman, and Brian Weberling, the son of a former City Council member Doug Weberling.

BVU claims a "competitive" hiring process, but as usual there's no records of anything and no real rules of conduct. When Wes Rosenbalm was questioned on this by the Bristol Herald Courier, he replied, "Sometimes if we've got a good batch of resumes, then we won't put it external because we'll go through what we've got...I can't tell you on these what we did each time. I just don't know." He claims politics has nothing to do with it. To quote, "I can tell you nobody has ever told me to hire anybody, and I wouldn't let them do that if they did. I've got a business to run, and we've got to make sure we've got the best employees in the position." Rosenbalm refused to release resumes for his employees.

The Herald Courier questioned whether the city or BVU is at odds with state law. According to them, "The city's unwritten hiring policy, which calls for advertising vacancies "as a general rule," does not apply to BVU, said City Manager Bill Dennison." There's no proof of anything illegal here. This is common practice in Bristol where those with connections get all the good jobs, while others no matter what qualifications can't even buy a job. 15,000 college graduates have fled Southwest Virginia over the past 20 years due to the "nepotism" culture of political corruption and social apartheid. Almost one-third of the City population lacks a high school diploma.

Freddy Bowman started working for BVU as a tree trimmer on Sept. 24 at $20,800 a year. A typical tree trimmer job goes for about $7 an hour in the private sector with no benefits. He worked previously at a golf course, and the Utility admits he had friends on the inside that claimed he was a good worker. I have no reason to doubt that. To quote Rosenbalm, "So that's how he got the job - knowing people inside of BVU that would vouch for his work ethic. I never spoke to his dad [City Councilman Fred T. Bowman] about him or anything else." Still, why was the job never offered to the general public? This is how everything operates here.

As board chairman from 2004 through 2007, Jim Rector considered himself well removed from hiring decisions..."The board has nothing to do with personnel, and never has," according to Rector. And, "He added that any suggestion "that I might have tried to influence the hiring of my son, that's an insult to me, to him [and] to the utility people. It really is. Because I would never do that." according to the Bristol Herald Courier.

Jamey Rector holds a bachelor's degree in engineering and design graphics from East Tennessee State University and has started work on a master's program in technology. He taught sophomore classes in mechanical drafting for several years at Virginia Highlands Community College, and worked a range of jobs - from customer service representative to gauge and quality technician - at Dana Corp. Dana slammed the doors for Mexico in 2005-6. Many of the other DANA employees remain jobless.

He said he did not tell his father about applying to BVU, he said, until he was offered a job. Jamey Rector works in engineering, provisioning and sales, and makes $45,320 annually. He said he does not recall who hired him, and Rosenbalm said he doesn't know, either.

Rosenbalm claims he doesn't remember interviewing Jamey Rector or Brian Weberling, but does acknowledge he was actively involved in the hiring process - from vice presidents to customer service representatives - soon after he arrived in 2001. At the time Brian Weberling was angling for a job in his hometown. He was newly married and had been working as a network systems manager for a printing company in Richmond for a year. I know people here that have those qualifications and already live here, and can't get a job. One of them left Bristol for good.

The rest is a quote from the press:

"I talked to my dad to find out if he knew of anything in the [Bristol] area that was technical in nature," Weberling recalled. Doug Weberling, an optometrist who was then mayor of Bristol Virginia, knew BVU would be hiring 10 people for its new Internet initiative, OptiNet, and asked Rosenbalm if his son could apply. At the time, the younger Weberling had completed one year in college before going into freelance computer work, ranging from fixing residential PCs to setting up networks for businesses. Rosenbalm interviewed him, Brian Weberling said, and he believes the CEO was the one who offered him the job as a network support specialist. Weberling, who earned a business administration degree from King College last May, now makes $31,708 a year.

Doug Weberling has never served on the BVU board, and to quote, "I was glad that [Brian] had the ability, and they had the need. I told Wes, If he's no good, you can fire him." If they had such need, then why was the jobs not advertised to the public?

I don't believe anything was illegal here, it's just the way the culture in Bristol operates.

Ref. BHC Jan 06, 2008

Some of big money the connected in Bristol, Virginia can earn. Here the per-capita-income is about $17,000. Bristol Virginia Utilities threatened to pull its advertising from the newspaper (BHC) if they published the salary information. Note the City Golf Coarse has been a financial disaster while Mr. Brown headed an effort to spend almost $3 million on a land deal that has so far netted a Cracker Barrel restaurant. It's not that most of the people aren't worth their pay check, but the fact so many other residents are under paid.