Hamlin – In continuing proof that new majority Republican elected officials do not necessarily assure harmony, Republican Lincoln County Assessor Jamie Linville is fighting a decision by the Republican-controlled county commission to force his office to switch spaces with the sheriff’s department.
His attorneys filed their actions in Lincoln County Circuit Court.
Assessor Linville says the office move is unnecessary and may cost taxpayers up to $100,00O. On February 26, Linville filed a verified petition for issuance of a writ of certiorari and a motion for a preliminary injunction against the county commission and commissioners Josh Stowers, Phobe Harless, and Kimberly Blair as well as County Clerk Kristy Scraggs.
The West Virginia Record first reported the court action.
Assessor Linville says the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Republican Sheriff Gary “Butch” Linville filed a request with the county commission on several matters to create an expansion of his office.
That included a request for “larger accommodations to better fulfill the duties required of the Sheriff’s Office,” and offered the solution of switching courthouse offices with the assessor.
The sheriff’s request said the change would “result in greater productivity by all parties, as well as improve employee morale (sic) and retention, and better serve the citizens of Lincoln County.”
It was pointed out that the assessor space has a door that opens directly to the back parking lot which would make prisoner transport safer and more secure.
Jamie Linville argues in his petition that the plan “is not efficient and it’s not possible.”
He says the cost to taxpayers will be about $30,000, with built-in shelves to ensure public access to records and general safekeeping. Also, the 12 computers for public access in the current office wouldn’t fit in the sheriff’s current office, the assessor says.
But the cost to Lincoln County taxpayers could be $100,000 considering funds needed to move both offices as well as legal requirements for all parties in litigation, according to Assessor Linville.
Other issues with the request, according to Linville, are that it never mentions any alternative option for the sheriff’s demand and that the sheriff’s office has only seven full-time employees when it traditionally has had 12 to 15.
But, the sheriff’s request was placed on the commission agenda for a hearing at the January 5 meeting, and another hearing was held on January 19. The move was approved on a 2-1 vote with Republican Blair voting against it. Stowers is also a Republican. Harless is the lone Democrat.
Assessor Linville argues that there are more pressing budget issues.
“Namely, the same January 19 hearing included testimony from Brian Graley, Lincoln County (Republican) Circuit Clerk which detailed a collapsing roof that had ruined a $600 county printer, leaked on employees of the county while performing their job duties, and posed a serious threat to injury or illness to employees and members of the public if not properly remediated,” his petition says.
The assessor asks the court to issue a writ to review the actions of the county commission. In the accompanying motion, Assessor Linville asks the court to enjoin the respondents from removing him from his office and using taxpayer funds to do so.
On February 28, Assessor Linville filed for a temporary restraining order to keep the parties from removing his equipment from his office space and using taxpayer money for it.
On March 22, the defendants filed an amended answer to the petition and a counterclaim.
In that answer, the defendants deny the allegations and seek to have the petition denied and dismissed with prejudice (meaning it could not be brought again).
In their counterclaim, they say, “Specifically, respondent seeks a full accounting of any public funds used from petitioner’s budget which were used related to the filing and prosecution of his petition for Issuance of Writ of Certiorarim. Without full accounting, it is impossible for the respondent to determine if the petitioner is using the public funds allocated to him in an appropriate manner.”
Stowers said the commission has agreed to delay the move until the court rules.
Assessor Linville is being represented by Randall L. Saunders and Jonah D. Samples of Nelson Mullin Riley & Scarborough in Huntington. The defendants are being represented by J. Mark Adkins and Lindsay M. Gainer of Bowls Rice in Charleston. After both judges in the circuit – Jay Hoke and Stacy Nowicki-Eldridge – recused themselves from hearing the case, Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Ferrell is presiding.
Lincoln sources say the court action is indicative of a division in the newly-invigorated Republican party.
“There’s what I’d describe as our ‘old Republicans’ and there’s ‘new Republicans’ who recently switched from Democrat to Republican mostly because of Donald Trump,” said one courthouse regular. “Those two groups are united for Trump but they still have long-established differences.”
Having won all the available courthouse offices, Republicans are considering who they may field in 2024 when a county commission spot is open.
Voters will also have to choose a new sheriff since Gary Linville is term-limited from running. He has been prominently mentioned as a potential 2024 commission candidate.
Being widely suggested for sheriff is former School Board member Danny Clayton of Hamlin. Clayton is best known for his work for Armstrong Telephone for many years.
Clayton is married to Lincoln Magistrate Kim Clayton. She is well-known as a coach and school administrator.
Danny Clayton would be hard to beat.
Filing for 2024 begins in January.