Commission to seek bids for animal shelter contract
The Pocahontas County Commission decided to rebid the animal shelter contract last week after much discussion-and input from a courtroom adversary.
Commissioners made the move on a 2-1 vote, with commissioner Martin Saffer saying nay.
Saffer said if the commissioners are satisfied with the services provided by last year's bid-winner, Sandy Mallow, at Last Chance Animal Shelter, then there was no reason to re-bid the contract.
Commissioner Jamie Walker disagreed.
"I think if we're going to hire it out, we need to bid it," Walker said. But Walker said he was also of the opinion that the county needs to own a shelter and hire a manager.
With a budget of $50,000, that seems unlikely, according to John Fitzgerald, co-owner of Allegheny Recreation Center, where the animal shelter was located during the 2010-11 fiscal year. ARC is housed in the former Hanover Shoe factory, which is county property.
"With these kinds of requirements (as spelled out in a legal advertisement last year), it will end up the same as last year," Fitzgerald said. "You are going to get somebody to bid and they ain't going to be able to meet these requirements. You waive these requirements to take a lesser bid, you might as well not even bid (it)."
Mallow won the bid last year by about $30,000; however, she told commissioners that she needed a $5,000 advance in order to fulfill the bid requirements. The commission voted to advance the money, but ARC's owners say in court documents that she has never improved her shelter to the commission's published requirements. Judge James Rowe has given Fitzgerald and Duncan a month to fortify their case.
Walker said he wanted to change the bid requirements for the coming fiscal year, because the county is taking responsibility for more animals than required since pet owners drop off unwanted animals at the shelter, claiming they are nuisances.
He said the solution to overpopulation at the shelter is to keep the animals the required number of days and then euthanize them, instead of participating in adoption and rescue efforts.
Saffer said the tenor of the community did not agree with that.
"With these kinds of requirements, we'll end up the same as last year," Walker predicted. "You waive these requirements to take a lesser bid, you might as well not even bid."
Walker voted against the bid requirements, which appear in the legal advertisement section of this week's newspaper.
Commissioner says executive sessionﾠimproper
Saffer said that a 25-minute executive session held at the behest of Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price "did not concern anything for which we should not have been in public."
Price asked for the executive session, but did not name one of the legal exceptions to West Virginia's Open Meetings Act. Instead, Fleming read through the exceptions and allowed her to choose Exception Number 6: "To discuss any material the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy such as any records, date, reports, recommendations or other personal material..."
Price said that the discussion would be about legal services rendered on behalf of her office by outside counsel, and a portion of that discussion would include "codified confidential individuals, as well as others."
"Some of it involves individuals that can't be discussed in the open," Price said. The prosecutor said some of the discussion could be public, "but the written part can't be made public. Something that's written, if it's provided to you, would have to be not disclosed," she reiterated.
When the commission later returned to open session, Saffer had the following statement:
"I don't believe we should have been in executive session," he said. "The matter did not concern anything for which we should not have been in public. It concerned a request by the prosecuting attorney to pay a part of [her] legal expenses concerning a matter before the Office of Disciplinary Counsel."
Saffer said the commission would consult with the County Commissioners Association about what its "legal and appropriate liability and response should be."
The ODC found probable cause to formally charge Price with a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct last September. The charges range from alleged failure of competence and diligence, alleged failure to expedite litigation and achieve fairness to opposing party and counsel, as well as impartiality and decorum, and alleged misconduct.
The county has already paid nearly $9,000 for her legal expenses resulting from the charges. At its December 7, 2011, meeting, commissioners approved a $1,000 budget revision from their professional services line item into the prosecuting attorney's contracted services line item. The revision bolstered her budget to cover a bill for her attorney, which was paid later that week. Price retained Ranson Law Offices in Charleston.
Price has said that she "contests a large part" of the charges against her, and alleged that the complaints were political because of the election. She narrowly defeated challengers Robert Martin and Martin Saffer in the Democratic Primary with 37.62 percent of the vote to Martin's 33.9 percent and Saffer's 28.48 percent.
No Republican filed to seek the office in the Primary Election.
Courtroom plans getﾠcommission review
A proposed upgrade for the Pocahontas County Courtroom got a review at the evening meeting.
Representatives from ZMM Architects and Engineers gave commissioners an overview of what the project could look like and about how long it could take.
Essentially, the courtroom would be "flipped," with the judge's bench in its original location on the south wall. The hallway behind the judge's bench, what is now a witness room or waiting area, two public bathrooms and the jury room would be blocked from public traffic. The hallway from the new elevator and the hallway by the main staircase would be open to the public. In terms of technology, the courtroom would be outfitted with data management and high-speed Internet, as well as a new sound system. The courtroom would lose approximately half of its public seating.
In addition, the ceilings would have acoustical materials, windows would be shuttered and the walls would have wainscoting. The judge's bench would be equipped with a security system, which will be paid for by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Since the commission is now in the midst of replacing courthouse lighting through a grant, courtroom lighting got a good bit of discussion.
According to the grant specifications, the lighting project must be finished by June 8, several months before any courtroom renovation could take place. The courtroom renovation project calls for historic light fixtures and wall scones. The solution appears to be proceed with the grant lighting, remove it during the renovation and use it in some other county-owned building.
The current lighting project grant was for $160,000 and was funded by stimulus money.
In other business, commissioners:
ﾕheard from Steve Rawlins concerning the West Virginia Counties Risk Pool.
ﾕdiscussed employee vaccinations.
ﾕproclaimed Fraternal Order of Police Peace Officer Memorial Day.
ﾕdiscussed refunding $4,000 to Elkins Metal Recycling because metal at East Fork Industrial Park cannot be reclaimed because of asbestos onsite.
ﾕproclaimed May Community Action Month.
The commission meets again in regular session Tuesday, June 5, at 8:30 a.m.
Pamela Pritt can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org