Charles Town – A running battle between two factions of the Jefferson County Commission made its way to circuit court Monday in Charles Town.
The county Prosecuting Attorney is seeking to force Commissioners Jennifer Krouse and Tricia Jackson to attend Commission meetings or face removal from office.
The major issue behind the filing is disagreement on the appointment of a fifth member of the group to represent the Charles Town area.
The previously elected Charles Town representative, a Republican, left office on June 15.
The other two Commissioners, President Stephen Stolipher and Jane Tabb, are not the objects of Prosecutor Matthew L. Harvey’s petition. The Prosecutor contends that Krouse and Jackson are failing to do their duty to attend meetings where the replacement issue will be on the agenda.
Both the refusal to attend meetings and failure to appoint a fifth Commissioner are listed separately as violations of the law, according to the filing.
The absence of the two Commissioners has prevented the Commission from convening because it takes three Commissioners to constitute a quorum of the five-member group.
The two have not attended a meeting since September 7, the petition claims.
At least some business was apparently conducted at that September meeting since the Spirit of Jefferson news site reported action taken then regarding solar farms.
On that vote, the news source said Solipher recused himself, Krouse and Jackson voted in favor of rescinding the solar ordinance and Tabb voted against rescinding it.
Harvey maintains, however, that the respondents (Jackson and Krouse) have been and are failing to do any county business while accepting their regular salaries.
The petition goes on to cite state Supreme Court and other rulings that maintain that doing one’s official duty is the “paramount” service of a public official. Meeting, the petition argues, is one of those “official duties.”
The petition quotes the Supreme Court as saying, “if the (official) gets the check, he must do the job.”
Harvey goes on to maintain that Jackson and Krouse issued a press release on November 7 saying they would attend no Commission meetings where the appointment of the Charles Town Commissioner is on the agenda.
The petition then declares that the Commissioners have been advised that they must appoint the fifth member by the Secretary of State’s office. Yet, the petition states, the two will not do so.
Inasmuch as the defendants refuse to meet, Harvey said he is faced with “no choice” but to file the petition and demand the removal of the pair.
The narrative says that, after the fifth Commissioner resigned on June 15, a preliminary vote on a replacement was taken.
The candidates put forward each received two votes. The Prosecutor that has left the Commission at a “stalemate.”
When the Commission could not agree on a replacement, the petition says the county Republican Executive Committee met as Harvey believes is required by law, and recommended three possible replacements. This is done because the Commissioner who left a seat empty was a Republican.
State Code then specifies a somewhat confusing process by which candidates are eliminated from consideration until only one remains. The petition outlines that process.
The petition further says that when Commissioners met August 17 to name a replacement, Krouse insisted she had “an ethics opinion” that one of the candidates was “ineligible.”
When that occurred, Solipher’s attempt to move forward with the selection process was thwarted when Jackson and Krouse said they would walk out. In that case, there would have been no quorum to conduct any business.
That was the last meeting with Krouse and Jackson in attendance, according to Harvey.
Much of the remainder of the 38-page petition itemizes what it says are specific duties not performed on virtually a daily basis by the respondents.
The Commission split has been a major topic of discussion in the Eastern Panhandle and on social media.
The petition alleges Krouse and Jackson have participated in “misconduct, neglected their duty and committed criminal acts.”
The petition concludes by asking the Circuit Court to find the allegations against Jackson and Krouse are true as stated in the petition. It seeks their removal as Commissioners.
An anonymous source close to Jackson and Krouse said late Monday that the two “continue to believe they are in the right. If all else fails, let the voters pick a replacement at a special election.”
A second source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “They have consulted with attorneys. They do not intend to attend any meeting to improperly name a replacement.”
Still, a third anonymous source said, “if the Prosecutor and those two other Commissioners want county business conducted, they need to put out an agenda without the replacement on it.”
The three sources asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the respondents.
Jackson had told a reporter earlier that she was “prepared to attend meetings without the replacement on the agenda.”
This is a developing story that will be updated as events warrant.