Commission approves Martin as Assistant Prosecutor
Over the objection of County Commissioner David Fleming at last Tuesday's Pocahontas County Commission meeting, the commission approved Prosecuting Attorney's Eugene Simmons' hiring of Robert Martin as Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.
Simmons said Martin had already been working for him "for two months" and has been working on "at least 15 cases" in Circuit Court.
"He does an outstanding job, and we need him," said Simmons.
Fleming said he did not doubt Martin's qualifications for the job, but with the commission and other county offices facing lawsuits, Fleming contended Martin's hiring could further erode public confidence in the commission.
On January 22, the commission had unanimously opposed Martin's hiring because of unresolved misdemeanor charges against the attorney.
Last October, Martin was charged with public intoxication and obstructing an officer in Monongalia County, as the result of an alleged physical altercation at a West Virginia University football game, according to a criminal complaint filed in Monongalia Magistrate Court by West Virginia State Police Trooper N. K. Sayre.
Martin has pleaded not guilty to the charges. A hearing is scheduled for May 2, according to the Monongalia County Magistrate's office.
Despite the commission's "no" vote in January, Simmons moved forward with employing Martin.
"I have the authority to hire—the statute is clear on that—an individual to work for me," Simmons told the commissioners.
Martin's employment was recently questioned in Circuit Court. However, Circuit Judge Joseph Pomponio affirmed that the attorney had been "properly hired and duly appointed Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Pocahontas County."
After a 10-minute closed-door meeting with Simmons and Martin, commission president Dolan Irvine said the unresolved charges against Martin should not prohibit him from serving as the county's Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.
"I move we approve Bob Martin as the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney," Irvine said. "My reasoning for that is - Gene Simmons was elected, just like I was elected. I expect Gene Simmons to do the job, as all the voters of Pocahontas County did—or the ones who voted for him—and he had a majority of the vote. I think he has the right to hire whoever he so desires."
Fleming objected to the motion.
"I believe you, Mr. Simmons, that he's doing a fine job," said Fleming. " I'm glad for that, and I hope we can resolve this in a satisfactory manner. The reason I object is because he currently has charges pending against him—misdemeanor charges.
"It's not my job to judge the innocence or guilt of Mr. Martin," Fleming continued, "but it is my job to make sure that the county commission retains and executes the responsibilities it has to approve the hiring of those brought before us."
"We've gone through a lot of issues in this county recently with some of the deputy issues in the Sheriff's Department that have got some litigation against us," Fleming added. "I think that— unfortunately—to retain Mr. Martin, at this time, is to further discredit us in the face of the public."
"After the charges were dismissed or he was found innocent—then we should pick this up again," Fleming said. "I don't see how this county commission can, in good conscience, vote to hire someone with charges pending against them."
"I have a difference of opinion than Mr. Fleming," Irvine said. "Those charges are misdemeanors. They've been explained and probably, if I had been in the same situation, at the same time, I may have done the same thing. And you have to know the charges because, unless you do, it's totally different when you hear two sides of an issue. And we heard the other side. In my opinion, I would have done the same thing or maybe worse. Who knows?"
Walker raised no further objections to Irvine's motion, so the motion passed.
Speaking by phone following the commission meeting, Martin declined to offer further comment on the circumstances surrounding the charges.
[SUBHEADING: Commissioners warn of cuts to county boards]
In other matters, the commission appointed Fleming to be its representative on the board of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the course of the discussion, it became clear that the CVB and other boards in the county had touched a nerve with Irvine and Walker.
Irvine said the PCCVB board had become too politically active in recent years.
"In my opinion, and my opinion only, they need a little more balance on there," said Irvine. "Every time a political issue comes up, that visitors bureau board jumps on the side of the environmentalists. And that's a fact—everybody knows that."
"If they're still going to pursue political issues, in my opinion, those folks need to put their name on the ballot and express their views on the ballot—be elected like the rest of us," Irvine continued.
"I support the visitors bureau, and—you know—it's one of the good things in Pocahontas County," Irvine added. "What they do is great, but I don't think it's their job to decide political issues. That's what we're elected to do."
Walker suggested any boards that receive county funding should refrain from taking positions on local issues.
"They're using everybody's money," said Walker. "It kind of gives the impression that the county's for stuff that maybe it's not."
"I know with the national monument deal, you know, the library was on that, the tourism people was on it, the Snowshoe Foundation was on it," Walker continued. "There was a lot of people that was on that, and some of them received county money, some of them didn't. But, to me, if you're receiving county money, you shouldn't be put in the position to give a statement one way or the other. You know, they ought to leave that up to us, at that point."
Irvine suggested the commission could cut funding from boards that take political stands.
"My own personal opinion is that we ought to look at funding of those groups that take those political stands and maybe reduce it some," Irvine said. "I mean, if they've got time to work on political issues, they've got more time that they could devote to the library or to the tourism."
Fleming said he would weigh issues carefully as he serves on the PCCVB board.
"If I'm voted to serve on that board, of course, I promise that I would approach every issue with full consideration of the matter," he said.
The commission approved Fleming's appointment to the PCCVB board.
In other business, the county commission:
Approved a $400,000 bond issue for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital. The $400,000 bond revenue will be used for the purchase of an ambulance and other equipment;
Approved a $1,000 contribution to a Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation skate park at Stillwell Park, in Marlinton. The commission agreed to match up to $1,500 in additional funding raised by Parks and Recreation;
Approved a $129,000 budget revision to cover insurance premiums for Circuit Clerk employees;
Agreed to invite computer equipment vendors CSSI and GST to the next meeting to discuss courthouse equipment upgrades;
Set its budget work session meeting schedule.
The Pocahontas County Commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., March 5 at the courthouse in Marlinton.