Commission hires two deputies on split vote
After nearly an hour in executive session-spent with Sheriff David Jonese and an attorney from the West Virginia Sheriff's Association-the county commission voted 2-1 Tuesday to hire two men to fill two open deputy positions in the county's law enforcement division.
The positions were on last week's county commission agenda, but the motion to hire James Peteete and Samuel Hummel died for lack of a second in front of a crowded courtroom. The meeting was moved upstairs to accommodate county residents who wanted to discuss Marcellus shale drilling (see separate story, page 2).
After the majority of the crowd left, however, commissioners decided to have a special meeting this week. Commissioner Martin Saffer said that the county's governing body had a legal obligation to fulfill its budgetary promises.
After approving two other items on the agenda, Saffer quickly moved for the commission to go into executive session on a personnel issue.
That met with some objection from members of the public.
James Meadows, of Hillsboro, said he was "disturbed" to find out that the commission deferred to the local Civil Service board.
"I think it should be public and the commissioners should listen to the public and be responsible to the public," Meadows said.
Beaver Creek resident Norman Alderman said because the pair had not yet been hired, there was no personnel issue, and therefore, no reason to discuss hiring Peteete and Hummel behind closed doors.
The Open Meetings Act-commonly called the Sunshine Law-allows public bodies to go into executive session to consider "matters arising from the appointment, employment, retirement, promotion, transfer, demotion, disciplining, resignation, discharge, dismissal or compensation of a public officer or employee..."
However, the commission has usually voted on hiring personnel without a closed session.
"We have to talk frankly among ourselves with the sheriff," Saffer said. "Action will be taken in public and can be examined by the public."
Commission president David Fleming said he was reluctant to second the motion, but did.
"I felt we should have approved these hires in the last meeting," Fleming said.
Commissioner Jamie Walker voted against the executive session.
Walker also voted against hiring the deputies after the commission came out of the secret session.
Peteete was hired at a monthly salary of $2,000, while Hummel was hired at a monthly salary of $2,050.
Jonese has said that both men have been through the "academy;" however, the sheriff told commissioners the new deputies would receive a raise when they were "certified."
Jonese has copies of certificates of completion from law enforcement programs in Texas and California for Peteete and Hummel. The sheriff said both men must complete some West Virginia-specific programs, such as radar, take some courses in state law and take a Toxilyzer test. While these programs and courses may take some time, Jonese said, neither would have to spend 17 weeks at the West Virginia State Police Academy.
Fleming said that the men's qualifications are not the commission's "primary concern." Instead, he said, commissioners are more concerned with a new budget that may call for a decrease in the number of deputies. But he noted that commissioners have not yet looked at the 2012-13 budget.
"We're not there yet," Fleming said. "We cannot withhold the sheriff's approved budgetary amounts for these positions."
Pocahontas County has nine deputy positions, seven of which were staffed before Tuesday.
The commission allowed two candidates for the office of sheriff to do a little impromptu stumping at last week's meeting.
"We've already got enough deputies the way it is," said Buster Varner, a Democratic candidate for sheriff. In comparison, Varner said that Randolph County has nine deputes. "The numbers don't add up."
Further, Varner said he does not believe the two men have been through the academy. And, he said, money in the budget for extra officers could go to current officers for overtime.
Jonese's Republican contender, Stephen McCarty, Jr., said he agreed with Varner that the county has enough officers. McCarty also said the jobs should go to local people.
"We do have people in the county that needs to work and would be good officers, " McCarty said.
Randolph, the state's largest county in area, has a population of nearly 30,000, and 10 deputies. In addition, the Elkins Headquarters of the West Virginia State Police employs a dozen officers. The City of Elkins and other Randolph County municipalities also staff officers.
Pocahontas County, the state's third largest county, has nine deputy positions, and five West Virginia State Police officers assigned to the Marlinton Detachment. The county's population has declined to about 8,200. None of Pocahontas County's municipalities employ law enforcement officers.
Graduation from the West Virginia State Police Academy is a requirement for all law enforcement officers in the state.
Jonese said he'd like to "educate Mr. Varner a little bit on law enforcement."
"You have no idea what we do," he told Varner. "You don't know how many hours we work."
In response to the disparity in population and the number of officers, Jonese reminded Varner that every weekend during the winter, Pocahontas County is home to the "12th largest city in West Virginia," as Snowshoe Mountain Resort guests travel here for wintertime activities.
The sheriff ﾑs proposal was further undermined by Walker's statement that the law enforcement division of county government isn't able to maintain employees.
Walker said in the year he'd been in office, this is the fourth position that the sheriff has had to fill.
"That's a lot of turnaround for the county," he said. "I'm not comfortable filling these positions with people from out of state."
According to Jonese, certificates of graduation from the academy for both Peteete and Hummel are on file in his office. In addition, he said later, Peteete attended Pocahontas County High School, left after graduation and now wants to return. Peteete is pictured in the 1997 PCHS yearbook.
Six of the county's seven current deputies are Pocahontas County natives, Jonese said, as were the three who vacated positions in the last three years.
Peteete and Hummel scored the highest on the Civil Service Exam, Jonese said.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners:
ﾕapproved a letter of support for two murals depicting the Battle of Droop Mountain to be painted in Marlinton's business district.
ﾕapproved on a 2-1 vote spending $1,000 for an asbestos inspection in buildings at East Fork Industrial Park. The buildings were to be sold for scrap. The inspection company, Reclaim, will report its findings to the commission. Walker cast the negative vote.
The commission meets again in regular session Tuesday, March 6, at 8:30 a.m.