Attorney Ben Salango, Kanawha County's newest Commissioner, featured in Charleston Gazette Mail

Salango: Now is the ‘perfect time’ for Kanawha economic development

Charleston Gazette Mail, February 24, 2017

by Lori Kersey

If Ben Salango isn’t working at his law firm or coaching youth soccer, he might be off climbing a mountain somewhere.

The 43-year-old’s adventures, which evolved from hiking trips on the Appalachian Trail, have taken him to the peaks of Mount Rainier, in Washington state, Mount Whitney, in California, Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, and others.

But for Salango, the newest member of the Kanawha County Commission, the best part of climbing — and his job as a litigation attorney — isn’t winning, it’s the fight to get there.

“I’ll spend five days climbing a mountain and only spend two or three minutes at the top,” Salango said. “I have no interest in the summit. “It’s the struggle,” he said. “It’s the struggle that makes the success sweet.”

Salango intends to bring a similar attitude to county government. Getting things done isn’t for personal glory. “I think that’s all part of it,” Salango said. “You always challenge yourself. You push yourself and try to see what you can achieve, see what you can get done. And it’s usually not about personal accomplishment. It’s about what can you do for other people.”

Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper and Hoppy Shores appointed Salango on Feb. 2 to fill a seat vacated by Dave Hardy, who was appointed West Virginia Department of Revenue secretary by Gov. Jim Justice.

Salango has been a lawyer for nearly 20 years and a business owner for more than 10, but this is his first time holding public office. In choosing Salango, Carper noted the trend of people electing officials with no experience in politics, including Justice and President Donald Trump. Salango said he fits into that trend, and going from business leader to elected official is an interesting transition. “I think, a lot of times, business leaders are used to saying something and then it just happens,” he said. “In politics, that’s different, because there are checks and balances in place. And so, just because you want something as a politician doesn’t mean you get it.”

Salango is younger then fellow commissioners Carper and Shores, and is the only commissioner with young children. He and his wife, Tera, have two sons who are 14 and 9 years old. Salango said his different perspective was probably appealing to the other commissioners as they chose Hardy’s replacement. “If everyone is cut from the same mold, then everyone is just going to have the same ideas,” Salango said. “So it’s nice to have whatever diversity there may be — either age or gender or race or whatever the diversity may be. I think it’s good to have.”

Salango grew up in Raleigh County. He graduated from Shady Spring High School and studied at West Virginia University. His family has owned the Ol’ Mountain Trader, an advertising paper in Southern West Virginia, for more than 45 years, he said.

I watched them develop and grow their business over many years and learned a lot from them — not just work ethic but business ideas,” Salango said. “I was there when they struggled and saw what they did and learned a lot from them.”

It’s just natural, then, that he would go on to start his own business, he said. Salango moved to Kanawha County in 1999 to work for the Flaherty Sensabaugh and Bonasso law firm in Charleston. He practiced there for seven years, until he and Brett Preston started a law firm together.

The law firm is a family business for Salango. Tera Salango, a former Kanawha County assistant prosecutor, joined the firm last fall. Salango’s brother, Patrick, and sister, Kristy Salango Smith, also work there. “It’s good,” Ben Salango said. “We get along really well, but it’s hard to be the boss when you’re also the brother.”

Preston said Salango is smart, driven and one of the best attorneys in the state. “Ben has this gear most of us aren’t blessed with that, when he puts his mind to something, it’s going to happen,” Preston said. “His drive is not about winning, [he’s] operating from something deep in the heart.”

The two have known each other nearly 20 years and often climb mountains together. “I would trust him any day out there,” Preston said. “And there’s no question [that’s the] same drive he’ll bring to the commission. This is not a stepping-stone job. I think he really thought he could do some good. “It looks to me like he’s hit the ground running pretty hard.” Salango was appointed Feb. 2. At the Feb. 16 commission meeting, he proposed building a multi-million sports complex at Shawnee Park, in Dunbar. He envisions the complex hosting youth travel-sports teams from major cities in the region. Salango said the complex would be an economic boost and good for kids in the area. Last week, he helped negotiate a contract between Uber and Yeager Airport so the ride service will offer service at the airport.

Now that the county isn’t dealing with an emergency like the ones of the recent past — a historic flood, a derecho or a chemical leak — it’s a good time to invest in the economic development of the area, he said.

“I think now is kind of the perfect time,” he said. “We’re still dealing with the flood, trying to help people as much as we can with that, but it’s a good time to try to do some economic development in Kanawha County.”

Salango said he doesn’t want county employees to think he’s forgotten them, though he wants to see them get raises.“

I wouldn’t want to do what [sheriff’s deputies] do,” Salango said. “That’s a dangerous job, and they’re underpaid and I think they need to be compensated fairly. The folks in the Clerk’s Office work hard; I think they need to be compensated fairly.”

The commission will vote at its March 16 meeting on whether to give county employees a raise. Carper said officials will look at whether the county can afford raises. Hardy had just been re-elected when he took the state position, and his term runs until 2022. There will be an election next year to fill the rest of his term, and after only a month on the job, Salango hasn’t decided if he will run. That will depend on what he can accomplish between now and then, he said.

“If I’m able to use the position to do some good for the community, then I probably will run,” he said, “but if I feel like I’m just sitting in a chair and can’t accomplish anything, then I won’t.”

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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