The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 17, 2013

Mount Hope nonprofits clash over old high school

Criminal investigation of William Sohonage by State Police ongoing

(Continued)

MOUNT HOPE — COMMUNITY-BUILDING?

The stated purposes of both organizations make the rancor among them all the more ironic.

Mount Hope Heritage & Hope was incorporated in November 2007 by Rebecca Dean, Lynn Loetterle and Jan Londeree.

Their statement of purpose contains words like cohesive, viable, sustainable, unite, empower and beautiful.

“As a non-profit organization, we will pursue financial and other assistance for the common good of the people of Mount Hope and will serve as a forum for honest debate, nonpartisan and collaborative decision-making and inclusiveness, maintaining open records of meetings and finances,” the incorporation papers state.

Their bylaws transparently describe the duties of board members, meeting procedures and process for dissolution, much of which would become legally relevant later.

The Center of Hope’s incorporation document likewise holds up the good of Mount Hope as a focal point.

The February 2012 document says that the organization will be housed at the former Mount Hope High School and will operate a mentoring and education center for youth, along with a spot for “recreation and community-building.”

Community-building may have occurred — youth basketball tournaments are held at the high school, for example — but the community building has also created some powerful ill-will among townspeople.

In 2010, a chapter of the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s ON TRAC program was formed in Mount Hope to “boost economic and community growth.”

Originally, it was sponsored by MHHH, and the two groups essentially functioned as two organizations with one board.

ON TRAC had a “positive and productive start,” according to a Department of Commerce (DOC) spokesperson.

But a year later, the DOC had to provide a professional facilitator to work with ON TRAC to “resolve internal conflicts that had arisen.”

On June 19, 2011, The Register-Herald published an interview with Sohonage about MHHH’s upcoming plans to “turn young lives around” at the former Mount Hope High School, which would be deeded to the group in a matter of days.

In the story, Sohonage discusses the town’s poverty and refers to several city facilities as “dumpy” and “rundown” — quotes he says were taken out of context.

The article created something of a rift in the community, where sensitivities about poverty run deep.

Three days later, The Register-Herald published an “Our Readers Speak” letter by Thomas Brown, a current MHHH member and originally the liaison between the ON TRAC program and the City of Mount Hope.

Clearly referring to Sohonage and MHHH, he writes that “one person’s comments don’t always reflect the entire group that he/she belongs to and one person should never make their personal opinions or comments appear to be those of an entire group that they belong to, especially without prior approval from that group.”

Some on the board felt that Sohonage was operating too independently from the will of the whole, as relations among the board members bitterly unraveled.

On Jan. 17, 2012, MHHH/ON TRAC held a meeting at which they essentially agreed to separate from each other and began dividing their assets. The most substantial of these was, of course, the school building.

How and whether the assets — which also included thousands in cash — were legally divided is at the heart of the current dispute.

Brown announced the split on MHHH’s Facebook page in March. Later, in the fall, he commented that it was “a good thing,” calling ON TRAC “a joke,” and composed of “outsiders that are elitist and think they know better” than Mount Hope people.

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