A Highland County commissioner this week contradicted a candidate for state representative over assertions she made about funding problems for the new telemarketing training center in Lynchburg.
Barb Cole, who last week announced a Republican primary challenge against State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, recently submitted a letter to media organizations complaining that government funding for the center has been “stuck somewhere in the bureaucracy in Columbus,” and blaming Rosenberger for “ineffectiveness” in dislodging the funds.
But Highland County Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer and Joel Pierre, a former Lynchburg council member who serves as facilitator for the Lynchburg company, Digital Works, quickly issued a letter disavowing Cole’s comments, calling Cole’s letter a “sensationalized opinion piece,” and adding that “to infer that any public servant blocked funding is simply untrue.”
The disagreement was notable because Cole has often praised Shaffer for his efforts to make Digital Works a reality in Lynchburg. Recently, Cole stepped aside as president of the Highland County Tea Party, and was succeeded in that role by Shaffer, who is not seeking reelection as commissioner.
Digital Works is a Connect Ohio program that trains people to become customer service representatives. Funding comes from the Highland County One Stop Employment and Training Center through Workforce Investment Act money.
The local organization connected to the effort is the newly-formed Appalachian Gateway Development, a non-profit group which until recently included Cole as a member, along with Shaffer, Pierre, Sharon Bedard and Carolyn Hastings.
In her letter, Cole wrote that “here in Clinton and Highland Counties, the non-profit organization Appalachian Gateway Development Program… partnered up with Digital Works for customer service rep training with waiting jobs at the end of the four to ten week program. They have close to 300 people needing and wanting jobs in their pipeline with JOBS waiting!”
She wrote, “The problem? Digital Works funds seem to be ‘stuck’ somewhere in the bureaucracy in Columbus.” She said that Rosenberger attended a recent meeting in Hillsboro “where citizens appealed again for his help.”
But Cole wrote that “as of today, still rhetoric and no results or even contact with our local HERO’s (sic) Pierre and Shaffer.”
Cole concluded, “We have the Federal Government recognizing the need and value. We have the local government and citizens joining together and making it work. It seems we have a ‘Donut Hole’ at the state level…let’s see if our current representatives are with the people or special interests.”
But Shaffer and Pierre quickly issued a letter contradicting Cole, writing, “Recently, Barb Cole, a potential political candidate, made written allegations critical of funding for job training and placement. The sensationalized opinion piece called into question the legitimacy and action of local and state leaders regarding the process of funding for a new program.”
After describing Digital Works and its inception in Lynchburg, Shaffer and Pierre wrote, “Digital Works is reimbursed $3140 per student through Federal Workforce Investment Act dollars (WIA). These Federal dollars are very restrictive and it was known early on that significant numbers of people wanting to participate in the program would be denied funding. As of January 12th WIA has provided funding for 7 training spots and Digital Works have provided internal grants to an additional 7.”
Shaffer and Pierre also referenced statements Cole has made about the number of jobs that the Lynchburg training center would create.
They wrote that “While AGD believes the job market to be very strong in this industry, it would be irresponsible, as Barb Cole has suggested that hundreds or thousands of jobs will be created overnight.”
Shaffer and Pierre said that “AGD is working with our state & local leaders to make these types of programs a reality. To infer that any public servant blocked funding is simply untrue.”
They added, “Use of government funding must adhere to certain guidelines and parameters. Everyone recognizes that there is a long way to go to complete the jobs mission, and everyone involved is committed to get the job done. The contribution of everyone involved has and will continue to be appreciated.”
Asked Wednesday about Shaffer and Pierre’s response to her allegations, Cole responded with an email that again praised Shaffer and Pierre and criticized Rosenberger, and said, “I’m really sorry for the difficulty this has caused our local good guys and the Corporate Entities that have facilitated this program. It’s a great program and can help people here.”
Cole, who said she was asked to “separate from the organization” when she expressed her intention to run for office, also replied, “As far as my saying that thousands of jobs would be created overnight, Oh… that it could only be true…but a little farfetched for common sense.”
She said she would continue to make the matter a campaign issue.