William E. King Museum Fiasco

by Lewis Loflin

William King Museum Won't be Closing, Sort Of. The Washington County Board of Supervisors must rank as the worst example of corrupt government even in this area that's well known for it. We had several scams going at one time that the Board of Supervisors hid from the public. This must be the "King" of backroom deals.

The County Government had been using a vacant school building for their county offices. Somehow that building was transferred to the William E. King Art Center either before or after they started using it. So the Art Center had a source of funding in addition to government grants and outright cash gifts from local government. The County school system also used them for "educational" purposes to get more funding from the school system. It became apparent that the William E. King Art Center had no real business plan or at best a very bad one. It's a welfare basket case in my opinion.

Late 2009 or early 2010 the Board of Supervisors and the IDA had hatched a backroom deal with Alpha Coal with it's headquarters in Abingdon. The company needed to unload their building that had gotten taxpayer subsidies to begin with. When they merged with another coal company, the fun began. We can only speculate what went on in those backroom deals because this was under closed session where the public/press are barred and no records are kept.

This is what seemed to have happened: Alpha was offered millions in corporate welfare and other goodies from other communities if they would open their new office elsewhere. Whether Alpha pressured local officials to anti up on the goodies or whether the local government simply jumped on it is unknown. There's no public records and local officials refuse to talk.

Just outright buying the building to let Alpha out of its rumored $7-$8 million in debt wouldn't fly. They also didn't want to sell the building in a bad real estate market. All the sudden property that was supposed to foster new economic development (that it had so far failed to do) was in backroom deals to be bought for county offices. The deal got even sweeter for Alpha as Bristol Virginia, working with Washington County, got the company $8-$10 million in corporate welfare and free land to move their office about 7 miles down the road to Bristol, Virginia.

The fact was there was no new jobs created in all of this as these were merely some job transfers, mostly local. This is what local officials call "jobs saved" instead of new jobs which they continue to fail to produce. As for Alpha's new office, about two-thirds was taxpayer funding in my estimation. Alpha Coal did nothing illegal.

Now we come back to the problems this exposed for the William E. King Art Center. With the county offices moving into costly commercial property that will come off the tax roles, most of the William E. King Art Center "house of cards" comes crashing down. Turns out they were $2-$3 million in debt even with all the taxpayer handouts.

Now they are trying to unload their mostly useless building to pay off the debt. I asked my supervisor directly does the County plan to buy that building. He says no, but was also untruthful on the Alpha deal. In no time they were back to the County Board of Supervisors asking for $200,000 to start their fund raising campaign. The County so far hasn't acted on the request.