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Gregory’s Web – March 31, 2024

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The Jefferson County five-member circus became involved with a three-judge panel for a two-commissioner hearing in Charles Town last week.

Numbers, numbers … we love numbers.

At stake is the continuation of the elected terms of Commissioner Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse. 

The three-judge panel was convened according to state law after Prosecuting Attorney Matt Harvey filed a petition seeking the removal of Krouse and Jackson.

Five signifies the number of all Jefferson County Commissioners when that august body is at full force. Actually, they may be more like an april body, but I digress.

An obvious conclusion one might draw from the ongoing mess at the Jefferson courthouse, highlighted by last week’s hearing, has been mentioned here before.

It appears that the state’s framers and their successors wanted each of the 55 counties in the state to have a three-member Commission as the form of local administrative government.

Nevertheless, two of the counties have five-member panels. Jefferson and Berkeley are the red-headed stepchildren in this case. 

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None of this, of course, prevents all the laws and regulations from being specifically geared to three-member Commissions with no consideration given to the differences five-member boards create.

The heart of the whole current flap in Jefferson revolves around the fact that State Code addresses appointing replacement Commissioners in three-member counties. Language, outlining how a vacant position for a five-member panel is to be handled, doesn’t exist.

The biggest problem for Jefferson and Berkeley is that a vacancy on their panel leaves four remaining members while an open spot on the other 53 Commissions leaves just two.

Why does that matter? Because the Code clearly outlines the process to be followed – in a three-member situation but not five.

The law says that if the remaining Commissioners (two, in 53 counties; four in the two others) cannot agree on a replacement, a specific procedure will be followed.

The odds of any sitting Commissioners agreeing on the replacement are the infamous slim and none. The reason for that being because whoever is appointed may well tip the balance of power from one Commissioner to another.

And power is what’s important in being an effective Commissioner. If one can never or seldom gets a second vote on anything, he or she will accomplish little more than the custodian in terms of policy decisions.

Nonetheless, if the two (or four) remaining Commissioners cannot agree, the regulations say the county executive committee of the party with which the departed member was registered will meet and recommend three potential replacements.

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This is complex enough without going into the recent arguments in other counties that being a member of the same party as the departed member for at least 60 days is also required.

So, in the case of Jefferson, the four remaining Commissioners could not agree on a replacement for Clare Ath, who resigned in May 2023.

Jackson and Krouse voiced the opinion that at least one of the names submitted by the County Republican Committee was ineligible to serve if appointed.

Commission President Steve Stolipher and Commissioner Ann Tabb insisted the four remaining Commissioners should meet with a goal of appointing the new member, regardless. To that end, Stolipher kept calling for special meetings with the appointment on the agenda.

Jackson and Krouse followed through by announcing that they would refrain from attending. Thus there were no Commission meetings between September and November 2023.

The pair’s reasoning was clear and logical. If, as they suspected, an ineligible person was to be considered and even ultimately named, they had only one tactic to stop that from happening.

So Krause and Jackson refused to attend those called meetings, thus denying a quorum for the conduct of business.

The two absent members saw their non-attendance as the only way to assure that an illegal new Commissioner could not be chosen.

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By not attending, Jackson and Krouse guaranteed there could be no quorum, since three are required to form one on a five-member panel.

Although the pair attempted to explain to the public what they were doing, their and my early attempts to defend them won few converts to their cause.

An obvious majority of citizens seemed sold on the preaching of Tabb, Stolipher and others that Jackson and Krouse were not doing their jobs by missing meetings.

Our entreaties that a County Commissioner’s role was far more than attending meetings of the group fell on deaf ears. Nevertheless, it is true that the bulk of work occurs off the bench.

After a judge ordered Jackson and Krouse to attend the meetings, they quickly did so. Still the impasse on a new member remained. Little business could be.conducted in this atmosphere. So, despite serious misgivings, Ath’s replacement was named.

Pasha Majdi was added as the fifth Commissioner using the three-member replacement system. That meant only Tabb and Jackson eliminated a nominee, leaving only Majdi.

Meanwhile, Prosecutor Harvey filed paperwork to remove Krouse and Jackson.

Let’s take a brief break from this confusion.

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* * * * * *

The quirk in the law governing replacement Commissioners that baffled the Jefferson process was the requirement that the County Committee suggested just three names. That works appropriately for a three-member body but not five.

The Code procedure outlined says the longest-serving member will first eliminate a name from the list. The second-longest serving strikes a name. The single name left is the new Commissioner.

That, obviously, doesn’t work correctly if there’s four remaining members. Two Commissioners again strike names, leaving the shortest and next-shortest members out of the process. That’s eventually what happened in Jefferson.

That meant Commissioners Stolipher and Krouse had no input into the selection. That can’t be what Founding Fathers intended.

* * * * * *

The three judge panel, headed by Putnam County Chief Judge Joe Reeder, is taking testimony under consideration now. They will study all arguments presented, both in writing and orally.

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Before the end of April, the judges will make their decision and these two elected Commissioners will be in or out.

I know Reeder to be a totally honest and fair jurist. I’m confident the other two are as well. We can expect a firm decision grounded in the law and testimony.

It would be a powerful statement if they overturned the will of the voters and removed this pair.

* * * * * *

The Jefferson Prosecutor and Assistant Nathan Cochran, who is regularly assigned to the County Commission, elicited testimony from county employees who spoke of possible ramifications from the Commission not meeting.

This prompted one courtroom observer to say, “I don’t know about the judges, but I’d have been more impressed if Matt had questioned them about what actually happened, rather than a bunch of ‘what if’s’ that didn’t happen.”

* * * * * *

As I mentioned, it has often been a legal principle that judges and others should be very careful in removing any official elected by the people.

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The relationship between public officials and the citizens should be paramount.

* * * * * *

Mingo County Circuit Judge Miki Thompson has suddenly become community-minded as her re-election date approaches.

The jurist is campaigning hard in the new judicial circuit that includes Logan and Mingo.

In addition to announcing visits to “meet and greet” folks at various fire departments and other public facilities, Her Honor has been touting her role in Mingo adoption cases.

Never mind that Mingo’s adoption policies have long been debated and that the Judge has no “paid for” line on her Facebook ads that would seem to violate the law.

One such advertisement raised an eyebrow or two. It purports to be a letter written by a now-successful lady who apparently came in contact with Thompson in her youth.

In addition to nominating Thompson for sainthood, the author, Sonja Lehto of Panama City, Florida notes that she named her child in honor of the judge.

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That’s why the child, named for Miki Thompson, is named Mika Lehto.

And we thought “close” only counted in horseshoes.

* * * * * *

The political bomb-throwing ads, mostly by Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Miller, continued this past week.

No visible firearms appeared in this ad attacking one of Miller’s opponents, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. An earlier pro-gun spot featured Miller firing off rounds of ammunition.

This time, the line of attack is some of Morrissey’s former lobbyist clients.

The script for the commercial begins by asserting that ”Patrick.Morrisey sides with his lobbying clients over protecting West Virginia youth against puberty blockers.”

The main thrust of the spot claims that the now-Attorney General got rich lobbying for puberty blocker manufacturers and “sided with Presidents Obama and Biden in protecting access to trans care.”

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The ad goes on to say that Miller is opposed to Morrisey’s position.

All GOP Governor candidates this year have tried to out-conservative and claim more connections with Republican President Donald Trump than their opponents.

Morrisey’s lobbying past is bound to raise questions in this high-profile race.

Miller further accused Morrisey, as Attorney General, of refusing to join fellow GOP Attorneys General in a lawsuit to challenge a then-new Obamacare regulation that redefined the word, “sex.” 

In that definition, “sex” would include “an individual’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth.”

Clearly, Republican voters would not be pleased with that definition. I would have reached out to Morrisey or his staff for comment except that they do not respond, even when I make a legally proper FOIA request

A major reason why Morrisey was hesitant to sign onto this lawsuit could be because he formerly lobbied for drug maker Schering-Plough Corporation. 

Schering-Plough was approved to manufacture Eulexin in January 1989. The hormone blocking drug was originally used to slow the growth of prostate cancer. However, it is used as a puberty blocker today. 

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A spokesperson for Moore Capito, another GOP Governor candidate, said the Kanawha County Delegate, “blocked puberty blockers in West Virginia while Patrick Morrisey got rich off them.”

Reports show that Morrisey also lobbied on behalf of Albany Medical Center of Albany, New York. It has an expansive trans care center, according to reports.

* * * * * *

After studying the conduct of many political campaigns in West Virginia, some might conclude that yard signs are the most important factor in a successful campaign.

While I understand that signs are tangible proof that a campaign is being waged, the older election practitioners will remember the long-ago admonition that “signs don’t vote; people do.”

I pointed that out recently to Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, who is a Democrat candidate for the United States Senate. He quickly responded that he knew the old axiom.

Meanwhile, another sign that the Republican supermajority after 84 years is not ready for Prime Time comes from Berkeley County as well.

There, GOP legislative candidates seem hellbent on involving the whole party in their signage disputes.

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Allegations have been made that House District 91 incumbent Republican Delegate Don Horsht has been seen removing signs supporting Dr. Joseph de Soto, one of Horst’s primary opponents. A third GOP candidate in the contest is Tammy Hess. 

Horst denies taking down anybody’s signs, insisting he has put up only his own.

All the backbiting cannot be good for county Republican unity and means little to rank and file voters.

Nonetheless, the snipping keeps candidates busy while they wait to meet other candidates at the next “candidate meet and greet” in their district.

All the back-and-forth over signs caused one Republican voter to tell me, “it’s embarrassing. They’re behaving like grade school kids.”

* * * * * *

Speaking with Jefferson Commissioner Jackson the day after testimony ended in her ill-conceived removal hearing, I reported that most folks I meet think she gained ground in her State Auditor campaign thanks to Prosecutor Harvey’s politically-charged dog and pony show.

Especially among Trump supporters, they see Jackson as being politically persecuted by the legal system, just like the former President.

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* * * * * *

We are continuing our rundown of House of Delegates races, with a goal of keeping readers informed.

In District 76, there are two Democrats and two Republicans on the ballot. The Democrats are Stephanie Mainella and Rick Garcia. Appearing on the GOP ballot are Jon Dodds and Toby Heaney.

Incumbent Democrat Joey Garcia opted to run for the State Senate, District 13.

Republican incumbent Joe Statler has no opposition in the 77th District.

The 78th District pits incumbent Republican Geno Chiarelli versus Democrat Diane Gaston since both are unopposed in the primaries.

Democrat incumbent Evan Hansen has no opposition in District 79.

Republican Summer Hartley will take on incumbent Democrat John Williams in the 80th District. They are unopposed in their primaries.

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In District 81, appointed Democrat incumbent Anitra Hamilton is unopposed.

Republican David McCormick has no opposition in the 82nd primary. Democrats Bill Reger-Nash and Mai-Lyn Sadler will meet in their primary.

Incumbent Republican Debbie Warner is not seeking re-election, choosing instead to assist in her husband Mac Warner’s gubernatorial campaign.

District 83 finds only Republican incumbent George Street on the ballot.

In the 84th District, Republican Justin Hough and GOP incumbent D.R. “Buck” Jennings will square off. No Democrat filed.

There’s also two Republicans and no Democrats on the ballot in District 85. There, incumbent John Paul Hott II meets Anthony Prato.

In the 86th District, Republican Bryan Ward is without opposition in the primary and general.

Longtime GOP Delegate Gary Howell has no opponents in District 87.

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Incumbent Republican Rick Hillenbrand takes on Democrat Amanda Vincent in the 88th. Both are without primary opposition.

In District 89, Republican incumbent Darren Thorne will face Democrat Alyson Reeves. Each has no primary opponent.

We will try to wrap up the House next time.

Author

  • Ron Gregory

    From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia – Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.

From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia - Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.