Commission supports Durbinﾒs continued charter
After a couple of tumultuous months, which saw neighbors pitted against one another, the people of Durbin have an answer to the loaded question:
Should Durbin remain incorporated?
ﾓI think we should affirm with an action that the town of Durbin shall remain incorporated,ﾔ county commission president David Fleming stated last Tuesday at the commission meeting.
A large crowd, for and against dissolution of the town charter, gathered in the courtroom to plead their cases to commissioners Fleming and Jamie Walker. Commissioner Martin Saffer recused himself from the hearing because he is on retainer as the townﾒs attorney.
The commissioners reached their decision after hearing testimony.
A petition for dissolution of the charter, which garnered 64 signatures, was circulated by resident and former councilmember
Kenneth Lehman, who said he felt the people would benefit from dissolution of the town government.
Of the approximate 150 registered voters in the town of Durbin, 19 voted in the June election.
Lehman said he had two reasons why he filed the petition.
ﾓThere were only 19 votes [in the June election] and, according to the canvass, the most anyone got was 15 votes,ﾔ he said. ﾓThree of the councilmen are in one family, living in one household. You have one councilman that was forced to resign because of malfeasance of office and he pled guilty to a misdemeanor.ﾔ
Lehman referred to councilmember Mike Vance, who resigned as mayor after he was charged with stealing a heater from the town hall.
Many speculated that Lehman began the petition because he has a personal vendetta against the council and town because of a current lawsuit involving a fence on his property. Lehman was accused of having a personal vendetta against the council because of a current lawsuit involving a fence on his property
ﾓIt has nothing to do with a grudge. These 64 signatures, they all said the same thing. They donﾒt want them on council. They donﾒt want them representing us in our town government,ﾔ Lehman said.
Fleming asked Lehman what benefits he saw in dissolving the town charter.
ﾓI canﾒt see where having a town government helps,ﾔ Lehman explained. ﾓYou read all the articles in the paper, all the stuff weﾒre going to lose. I think the most thing that we gain is peace of mind.ﾔ
The town could lose include street lights, garbage pick-up and sewage services. Lehman said he found alternative ways to continue these services if the town is dissolved.
ﾓI have talked to the power company and they said if there is a street light outside anyoneﾒs home, for $8 a month, that could be attached to their power bill,ﾔ he said. ﾓIﾒve talked to Allegheny Disposal and he [Jacob Meck] said theyﾒre sure they could work out a deal to come and pick up the garbage.
ﾓThe town sewer system is under bond and they are trying to get the storm drains, but the bond can be reissued,ﾔ he continued. ﾓIt can be turned over to the PSD or whoever the state would deem responsible for that.ﾔ
Lehman also shared his grievances about town council meetings, stating that he doesnﾒt think it is legal that the council does not read the financial statement and previous meeting minutes aloud before voting to approve them.
Counsel for the town of Durbin, Jeff Triplett, presented the commission with a list of reasons to keep the town incorporated, as well as a petition signed by 90 people who are against dissolution of the town.
ﾓThe town, in its incorporated status, provides an extensive number of benefits for its townspeople,ﾔ Triplett said. ﾓIt improves the quality of life of its townspeople and instills a sense of pride for the people of this town.ﾔ
Triplettﾒs statement was met with some subtle scoffs from the crowd.
The attorney added that the town has incurred enough debt that it is exempt from dissolution, due to West Virginia Code.
According to the code, Chapter eight, Municipal Corporations, Article 25, Dissolution of municipalities, a town must not have a substantial indebtedness, as well as, fewer than 20 votes in the last election to be eligible for charter forfeiture.
ﾓThe town has incurred nearly $94,000 in indebtedness and debt is an important part of the statute,ﾔ Triplett said.
Triplett said the petition was uncalled for and submitted a motion to dismiss the petition of dissolution. In his argument, he alleged that Lehman plotted to circulate the petition prior to the election in order to ensure that less than 20 people voted.
Lehman denied the claim and stated he began the petition after the election.
Property owner Bill Grimes said he would recommend dissolution because of the distrust people have in the town council.
ﾓIf the people thought they were competent, there would have been a higher turnout to vote for them, but since there wasnﾒt a high turnout, that shows they were not confident in these people,ﾔ Grimes posited.
Former mayor and councilmember Frank Proud said that voter turnout is normally better and this election was a ﾓfluke.ﾔ
ﾓI have to say that we have had pretty good turnout to the last couple of elections,ﾔ he said. ﾓI think this election was kind of a fluke because it was uncontested.ﾔ
Pat Adams Proud agreed that the voter turnout was due to an uncontested ballot.
ﾓThis particular election, there was not a good turnout because it was uncontested,ﾔ she said. ﾓI believe there are things that are being done for the town. The council and mayor are working on getting these grants.ﾔ
Resident and property owner Mark Kane said he feels the town is fine the way it is.
ﾓIﾒve lived in Durbin for 57 years, and I donﾒt see anything wrong with whatﾒs going on,ﾔ he said. ﾓEvery small town has problems, and this has just gone too far. I know I own more land in and around Durbin and pay more taxes than anyone in here. Just leave the town alone and let them go on doing what they are doing.ﾔ
Mayor Donald Peck addressed several items mentioned by Lehman in his complaint. Peck said he contacted the municipal league in regard to the three councilmembers who live in the same household. The league informed him that currently, there is not a state law or code against this.
He added that State Code says that council is not required to read financial statements and meeting minutes aloud if the council has had time prior to the meeting to review the documents.
Councilmember John Osborne said dissolution of the town would hurt more than just Durbin.
ﾓI am a transplant to Pocahontas County, and I wouldnﾒt be living in Durbin if it wasnﾒt an incorporated town,ﾔ he said. ﾓFrom the view of someone from elsewhere, if I look and I see that everything is closing down, Iﾒm not going to want to move here. Do you want to continue to lose? Because thatﾒs what is going to happen.ﾔ
Commissioners weighed in on the matter prior to their vote.
ﾓIt seems clear to me that the town of Durbin is functioning in their corporate powers,ﾔ he said. ﾓDurbin does have substantial indebtedness. We also have petitions for and against, roughly more for keeping Durbin than against. I also appreciate in particular Mr. Osborneﾒs comments about if we disincorporate Durbin, how can we expect to continue to attract residents to Durbin.
ﾓI for one, donﾒt see any good reason to dissolve Durbin,ﾔ he continued. ﾓMy feeling is that in support of the evidence given by the code as well, there is every need and right to keep Durbin functioning.ﾔ
Walker added that if the residents are unhappy with the way council governs the town, they need to take action and run for election.
ﾓIf there is so many people in this town thatﾒs against the way itﾒs being run, you should run yourself,ﾔ he said. ﾓThatﾒs why Iﾒm where I am right now because I tried to get people to run and, nobody wants to do anything. They just want to complain about it. The only way to fix it is to get involved.ﾔ
Although technically the commission was not required to take action, in support of Durbinﾒs town government, Fleming and Walker voted to keep the town incorporated.