Just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice tweeted that he was declaring the following day a state holiday in remembrance of President George H.W. Bush on the day of his funeral. The tweet was followed by a formal release from the Governor about an hour later.
The late notice caught everyone by surprise and triggered a domino effect as local governments, courthouses and public schools followed suit. Some colleges, including WVU, decided to close for the day while others, such as Marshall, stayed open. But mostly there was a mad scramble by any agency or department affiliated with government to figure out what to do.
It wasn’t exactly chaos, but it was confusing, as well as totally unnecessary.
First, let’s give Gov. Justice the benefit of the doubt. He has a big heart and was apparently deeply moved by the life and service of President Bush, whom Justice referred to as “a true American military hero.” Much of the country feels the same way, as we have witnessed since his death.
However, the Governor’s decision to close was inordinately late. Maryland, Maine, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas all observed the day, but there is an important distinction between those states and West Virginia—they made the decision Monday to close on Wednesday, thus giving state agencies and the public time to plan.
Justice’s timing did not allow enough time for the necessary preparation so agency heads and parents of young school children had to scramble to make arrangements. Notably, the Governor held a wide-ranging press conference just hours before the announcement, but never mentioned any intention to declare the holiday or close the state, thus missing a perfect opportunity to get the word out earlier.
Brian Abraham, general counsel to the Governor, told our Brad McElhinny that Justice made the decision after being told of his options. “The Governor, when presented with the issue, consulted staff and some others, and he made the decision,” Abraham said. “If there was any issue about the lateness it would have been internal staff issues.”
Well, that’s for the Governor’s inner circle to work out, and West Virginians don’t much care who has the responsibility for telling the Governor what his options are. What they do care about is having a Governor who is on top of state operations and making good choices.
It was not necessary to declare a state holiday yesterday in honor of President Bush—many states conducted business as usual—but it is a defensible position. It was in line with President Trump’s declaration of a national day of mourning and closure of the federal government.
What is not defensible is the timing of the Governor’s decision.