Ethics complaints filed against PSD board member
Is a Pocahontas Public Service District (PSD) board member using his position for personal gain?
The West Virginia Ethics Commission will tackle that question after two separate complaints were filed against PSD board member David Litsey.
John Melick, an attorney representing Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. and Snowshoe-area landowners Ralph Beckwith, Harvey Galford, Russell Holt, Ike Morris and Frank Santmeyer, filed a complaint on behalf of the group, alleging that Litsey is using his position on the board for personal gain, and requesting that Litsey be barred from voting on sewer-related matters.
PSD board member Amon Tracey filed a separate complaint regarding the alleged conflict of interest.
The Ethics Commission notified Litsey of the complaints in an August 2 letter, which stated that an investigation will be conducted.
"The Review Board will now conduct an investigation to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a violation of the law has occurred which may subject you to administrative sanctions by the Commission, criminal prosecution by the State, and/or civil liability," the letter reads.
Litsey is the managing partner of a three-unit condominium at Silver Creek and part-owner of approximately 450 acres, less than two miles north of Silver Creek, on the north face of Mace Knob.
In the complaint, Melick notes that Litsey is a Snowshoe property developer and alleges that Litsey is using his position on the board to provide sewage service for his undeveloped property, to the detriment of other customers.
Melick included with his complaint a 2001 proposal letter, signed by Litsey. The letter, typed on "Consortium for Silver Creek" letterhead, offered to join the Litsey group property with another parcel to expand Snowshoe ski resort.
"We believe that the consolidation of these properties with the greater Snowshoe properties will have a tremendous impact on the undeveloped 1,200 acres of the Silver Creek complex," the letter reads in part. "The creation of north face slope system has the immediate impact of converting nearly 1,200 acres of Silver Creek and nearly 2.5 miles of ridge line into slope front lots on a system that imitates Killington, Vermont."
The complaint claims that Litsey unlawfully used his position to cancel construction of a centralized sewage plant in Linwood and advance an upgraded sewage system on the mountaintop, which could serve his undeveloped property.
"Respondent has violated W.Va. Code Section 6B-2-5(b)(1) by knowingly and intentionally using his public office for his own private gain by impeding the project and spending District funds on an alternative to the project that would enhance the prospects for development of the Mace Knob Property and diminish the prospects for competing developments," Melick's complaint reads.
Melick relies on advisory opinion number 2011-06, in which the Ethics Commission ruled that a board member, who was also on the board of directors of a homeowners group, had to recuse himself from a rate case investigation. The attorney requests that the commission bar Litsey from voting on sewer-related matters and determine if laws were broken.
In a separate complaint, Tracey requested an investigation.
"I would like to determine if respondent has violated WV Code 6B-2-5(b) by knowingly and intentionally using his public office for his own private gain, and by voting on matter in which he is associated with financial interests," Tracey's complaint reads.
Litsey has previously described the alleged conflict of interests, based on his part-ownership of the Mace Knob property, as "imaginary."
"When I talk about my sewage (regarding the North Face properties whose only entrance is in Randolph County, whose only structures are in Randolph County, which is taxed in Randolph County, and receives governmental services from Randolph County, and is in the watershed of the Tygarts Valley River), please remember that the only structure is a pony shed, and the only mammals residing there for the last 150 years or so are sheep and horses and it may well stay that way for the next fifty," he wrote in a June 21 email. "So, the hypothetical sewage that they are claiming unethically influenced my vote [...] is imaginary at the present and likely to stay that way for a long time."
Ethics Commission advisory opinions can be viewed online at www.ethics.wv.gov. The Melick ethics complaint can be viewed on the Public Service Commission website at www.psc.state.wv.us. Search for case code 11-0028.